Bookman Plaster Award announces new rules for mountaineering books following recent controversies

The trustees of the world’s most prestigious mountain book award have announced updated rules for entries following new research alleging that hundreds of historical mountaineering books have been published without reaching the true end of the story.

In 2021, an article in the New York Chronicle asked the question What is a mountaineering book? The piece was one of the first in the mainstream media to discuss concerns raised by mountaineering book critic Conrad Bartelski, custodian of the website Bartelski has been a primary consultant to the Bookman Plaster Award since its inception.

The world of mountain literature is being repainted as we speak
The world of mountain literature is being repainted as we speak

Bartelski and his team have spent the last 10 years investigating the provenance of mountaineering books of over 8,000 pages in length. Their conclusion is that many well-known writers have finished their books early. Moreover, writers have been using a variety of means to complete the story. These have included artificial aids such as Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign and even typewriters. Others have used support workers, such as typists, proof-readers, structural or developmental editors, and even commercial publishing companies with their own fleet of helicopters. The Bookman Plaster Award panel feels that many of these workers have not received the recognition they deserve. Moreover, many readers would consider it cheating.

For any mountaineering book to qualify for the Bookman Plaster Award in future, it must now meet three key criteria:

  • The book must start with the words “Once upon a time” and finish with the phrase “The end”, so that readers are clear the true end has been reached.
  • Books must be written by hand, on paper, starting at the beginning and finishing at the end, with no going backwards and forwards, scrubbing things out and/or starting again (a process known in the trade as “drafting”).
  • Consideration will be given to the use of proof-readers and editors only in the case of medical emergencies. Word-processing software is allowed only if used while skiing or when using non-motorised winged craft such as paragliders.

As of September 2023, all relevant books affected by these new rules have been archived as “legacy” books. People are welcome to read them, but they must bear in mind they are not reading the full story.

Patron of the Bookman Plaster Award Trust, Sir Hugh Jorgan, said: “The Bookman Plaster Award Trust has not taken this decision lightly, but we feel it’s necessary in view of the many previous award-winning books whose production has come under question. This should, of course, in no way detract from the incredible pioneering achievements of the writers in question. We know that some books have needed a series of drafts at regular intervals, while other, purer books have been written ‘alpine style’ in a single push. It’s also come to our attention that some books have even had the plot mapped out in advance so that the author can simply jumar up it. In the same way that you can’t win the 100m by riding piggy-back on Usain Bolt’s shoulders, or by tripping over your shoelaces 2m from the finish line, we must insist on honest production techniques and once-upon-a-time-to-the-end storylines, as per the updated guidelines on the website.”

The controversies that Sir Hugh refers to include the writer Patrick Fitzmichael, who won the award in 2008 with his book Verto-Psychopath. Bartelski has discovered that Fitzmichael is dyslexic and needed the support of a proof-reader to correct typos. Unfortunately, his proof-reader failed to notice a missing full stop after the phrase “The end”. Fitzmichael said that he didn’t realise the full stop was needed when he wrote the book, otherwise he would certainly have added one. But the end is the end, and without the full stop it must surely have been obvious that there was more to come.

Michael Hedgehog won the very first award in 1971 with his book Tum Teedle, about the first ascent of a 9,000m peak. It’s long been considered one of the great survival stories. Hedgehog lost both hands and one foot to frostbite, and had the latter hewn off with a scythe at a station platform in Wazzochistan in one of the book’s most memorable passages. But Hedgehog actually lost his other foot up Tim Tweddle the following year, which meant it hadn’t survived at all and the story was unfinished.

Perhaps most heinous of all, the great Rinzing Heyday – whose book Pussycat of the Rains is considered one of the greatest mountaineering autobiographies of all time – didn’t actually write any of his most famous work. The book was entirely ghost-written by the spirit of Tracey Ullman, who isn’t even dead yet. Bookman Plaster Award trustees are proposing that books such as these cannot be classed as proper books at all, because of the amount of support the author has needed. They are now considering a new category “phantom books” for such works.

Following the publication of these new guidelines, it has been announced that the only true mountaineering book is Mountaineering in New South Wales, first published in 1946 by the Australian mountaineer W.C. Dunny. Dunny wrote the first draft on toilet paper while confined in a prisoner-of-war camp in Italy during the Second World War. Unfortunately, he was forced to use up all the pages during a severe bout of diarrhoea. Luckily, he had a spare toilet roll and was able to write it all over again before his release (if you’ll forgive the pun).

Dunny’s achievements have now been officially recognised by the Bookman Plaster Award committee. Last week he received the very first new-look Bookman Plaster Award in a posthumous ceremony attended by his ghost-writer.

But in a further twist, it has emerged that Dunny also omitted the final full stop from the phrase “The end” out of respect for the mountain gods. When we questioned them about this apparent anomaly, a spokesperson for Bartelski’s team of researchers said: “Dunny knew perfectly well that the final full stop was supposed be there; he simply chose to ignore it out of respect for local customs. He was also a great bloke. This is within the rules, and we’re satisfied that he could easily have added the full stop had he wanted to.”

A full-scale review of all previous Bookman Plaster Award winners and nominees in now underway. Any works defined as legacy books under the new rules will be burned at next year’s ceremony.

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14 thoughts on “Bookman Plaster Award announces new rules for mountaineering books following recent controversies

  • September 27, 2023 at 6:09 pm

    Ha!!! I’m glad you are as dismissive of the ridiculous efforts to remove records as I am!

  • September 27, 2023 at 6:12 pm

    Mark – this may be your funniest piece yet! I don’t know if you realize this, but Patrick Fitzmichael once climbed the Rumdoodle with Michael Fitzpatrick. They went fast and light, using only one sleeping bag. They agreed to spoon but not fork if it got seriously cold.

  • September 27, 2023 at 6:20 pm

    I don’t think the mountain gods approve of spooning or forking above base camp, Robert. That one should definitely be erased from the records.

  • September 27, 2023 at 7:02 pm

    This raised a few chuckles, even as it raised the suspicion that it might be mocking me in the process 😉

  • September 27, 2023 at 8:02 pm

    Quite the opposite, Alex. A good editor is as essential as a good sturdy pair of crampons!

  • September 27, 2023 at 9:05 pm

    Nobody is attempting to rewrite history here, Mark, but the facts speak for themselves. The way Messner is attacking the “messenger” and not the “message” is akin to the approach Krakauer had when attacking Boukreev and Weston DeWalt. I’m not really interested in Messner’s fans sucking up to him, or the critics who depend on him for their income, but just to make you – and your readers – get things straight, look at the Manaslu research. It’s a solid piece of work, and the fact that critics refer to Eberhard as a “hobbyist” [with 40+ years of scientific research under his belt!] tells you all you need to know.

    Manaslu report here; file:///D:/_NEW_DOWNLOADS/PRIVATE/MANA-SMT-Update-new14052021.pdf

  • September 28, 2023 at 7:48 am

    I believe that Manaslu story was covered a few years ago by one of my colleagues in the serious blog posts team. If I recall, he agreed with you about the quality of research, but you can follow up with any comments there:

    This post is about the recent Bookman Plaster announcement, so let’s have another pint of Guinness old chap and keep it on topic. Hic.

  • September 28, 2023 at 7:50 am

    It’s certainly true to say that Conrad’s research is a solid piece of work. I’ve had a brief look at some of the titles in question and I’ve yet to come across any that start with the phrase “Once upon a time”. Of those that finish with the words “The end”, at least half of them are missing the final full stop. So, yes, in that respect Conrad is bang on the money. Whether the Bookman Plaster trustees were right to invalidate previous award winners, including some pretty amazing books, based on Conrad’s findings, well that’s another matter…

  • September 28, 2023 at 10:06 am

    Will do 🙂

  • September 28, 2023 at 2:08 pm

    That was pretty funny Mark -awesome. However, let me play devil’s advocate on the extreme other side -I asked my extremely wealthy friend what exactly they did for a living a few years ago (I knew she was in publishing) -and she explained they wholey ghost research and write books for people as a comprehensive end to end service -Their books are most to establish credibility in a field persuant to many lucrative financial opportunities like the lecture, keynote speaker circuit world for clients -or for the client to build a social or academic presence as an expert -Once explained in full, her service researches and writes %100 of the book, the client generally only gives anecdotal, opinion, and desires for the book in a series of interviews. This is all done in private under some kind of NDA of course and after an established process of editing and proofreading and set time based on the variables concerning the length of book, subject and research needed -the client has a book ready to shop or self publish without one mention that it was not written by them at all.

    I asked if they did any mountaineering/adventurer type books and she was delighted to inform me that this is one of their most lucrative customer bases.

    I wonder if I’ve purchased and read books like this (Ive read a lot of Mountaineering books) -I know Harrar was a practicing Nazi, but I’m feeling confident the White Spider (My Favorite) didnt need this kind of service 🙂

  • September 28, 2023 at 7:22 pm

    LOLZ, made me laugh out loud. This post should be in the Guinness Book of Records for world’s funniest blog post.

  • October 16, 2023 at 11:38 pm

    I’m afraid this post doesn’t qualify, reinhold b. It’s obviously unfinished.
    The end.

  • October 21, 2023 at 3:08 pm

    Poppies are not rhododendrons. Period.

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