What’s writing about?
For me writing is more music than maths, more magic than grammar, it’s as free as I can make it in order to make it free. I re-read what I write and it makes me sick, like reading out my last blog in the car to someone driving. It makes me sick as it makes no sense to me now, not like I thought it did. I read what comes out and want to chuck it all away, makes me feel like one of those hopelessly deluded losers from the X-factor who had no idea they couldn’t sing. When I write I go into some form of trance, it’s weird, and what comes out is beyond me really, in fact, it’s not me at all. I’m a very happy, kind and loving person, but what comes out from deep inside is cold, brutal and totally without mercy for anyone. It scares me, in fact, it’s rare I ever go back to read what I’ve written as I’m worried about just what I might find. I tell people that - beyond the people I love - writing is the most important thing I have, it gives my life its meaning more now than mountains (maybe I’m at that phase of a man’s life where he turns his wanderlust into himself?). Most people see writing as they see maths, just a hurdle, a thing of utility, asking not of the poetry of your words but the number you can bang out a day. If I was to say I’d managed to condense my greatest story into only ten thousand words, or had written a book of two hundred thousand, which would be most impressive?
And then there is always that question when you tell someone you’re writing: “What’s it about?”
Do you know that bit about the quickening from Highlander, where the heart begins to race and you run across the Highlands after Shaun Connery like a crazy loon? Well, writing books is like that. You have an idea that rattles in your head for decades, one little piece of a story that new thoughts and experiences slowly cling to. For me, it was the story of a man who only ever climbed inside the folly of a bear pit in some Northern town, perhaps the best climber who had ever lived. You have this story in your head and small pieces come your way that can be folded into that story: a beautiful girl at the crag with a piece of cord tied to her thin ankle, a man beside you in a coffee shop saying “I’ve no want for friends”, salt and grit hitting your feet from the gritting lorry as you run along an icy road. Then one day you start writing that story down and find you don’t even have the bones of that story, let alone the flesh, in fact, all you have is some small idea of what those bones would be if you could find them, perhaps only the word of what bones could be. And so you begin, you’ve been here before, slow at first, tapping out some ideas to see where they lead and off you go. One day your book - my book: The Bear Pit - is just an idea, a story you tell people and ask “do you think it’s a good one?” as you know climbing fiction is hard. Then you start, slow at first, but soon you feel that desire take you over, like love or fucking, that it’s all you want to do - not eat or sleep or do anything but layout those bones and grow the flesh and see that body of a story come alive. That’s what writing is about.
“A wood at the edge of the black town: a wood of sooty leaves, but green enough - when only a boy, in a clearing, on a small hill, he’d seen strange rocks squat like rough dark beasts, all-round and pebbly.”