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The Publishing Year

Friday, 31 January 2014

2013 was a busy and successful year for Vertebrate Publishing. We produced some excellent books, made plans for several more and generally had a great time.

The year saw optimism return to the publishing world as a whole. Digital publishing was still growing (if slowing a little) and was proving to be a great medium for showcasing otherwise out of print older titles, as we found when re-introducing historic climbing titles to world – but more on that later. Despite this ebook growth, the internet still hadn’t drawn the curtain on paper books: we put out some great titles and you bought them in significant numbers – thanks

One such title was Great British Bike Rides – a book we had wanted to produce for many years. It just took patience, research and a bit of luck to get there. Its author, Dave Barter, was already a successful writer, but what attracted him to Vertebrate was our down-to-earth approach and quality-over-quantity publishing philosophy. The book is fantastic, sending keen road cyclists on a 40-ride journey around the UK. Published in the late spring, GBBR would go on to be our biggest-selling title of the year.

It was, however, perhaps not our defining publication of the year. That honour was to go to a book that we still hadn’t heard about.

Lots of authors get in touch, some for a bit of advice, some with a manuscript and some with an idea. Some we help out, others we can’t, a few we publish. What do we look for in an author? Well we want a book we’d want to read or use. We always look for an author with a bit of profile, or a bit of energy to bang the drum, but perhaps most importantly we want someone we can work with, someone to get on with. All out authors – Ron Fawcett, Niall Grimes, Jerry Moffatt, Bernadette McDonald, Tony Howard – have been great to work with, but then sometimes you meet really special people, like Gerda Pauler.

Gerda approached us with her own English translation from her native German book, The Great Himalaya Trail. On the surface the book is quite ordinary, a long distance east to west trek across the Himalaya. But Gerda’s warmth, kindness and enthusiasm for life, if not spiders and leeches, just made us look a little beyond the superb (if slightly ‘German’) translation. Sure enough the book proved to be fantastic, a travelogue with a series of fascinating observations that cover every aspect of her Nepalese experience.

Next in was Gerry Galligan’s book, Climbing Ramabang. It made a lovely companion to The Great Himalaya Trail. While Gerda was accepting and observing, Gerry was challenging and questioning. A real character with a fast-paced love for life, Gerry was exploring what he could achieve in the Himalaya, climbing virgin peaks and traversing high mountain passes in remote regions before deciding to return home overland, always looking for more, always searching for something, right up to the final chapter. Both books are real page turners, but in their own ways.

I wonder what Frank Smythe would have made of these modern explorers of his colonial Himalaya? His biography, ably written by his son Tony was published towards the end of the year, and was soon discovered by the national media, laced as it was with revelation after revelation; the discovery in the thirties of Mallory’s body, illegal expeditions into Tibet, romantic and scandalous affairs all against a backdrop of some astounding mountaineering. My Father, Frank is well worth a read.

And then Phil Kelly knocks at the door. He knew what he wanted, knew when he wanted it, wasn’t super clear on how it would be paid for (but that was just a detail), this was Peak Rock. Or to be more accurate, this was a huge heap of photos, (some might say all the photos), and a lot of words, very historic, revelatory and fascinating words. All that remained was for us to down tools, stop whatever we were doing and get on with Peak Rock. Phil, and his straight guy Graham Hoey were the trustees of this work, a project 30 years in the making, and now we had a couple of months to get it done. I believe books like this are few and far between. I can’t even begin to say exactly how I feel about it. It’s just very very special. It takes me back to a time when climbing was everything, and that for me is enough in a book.

Martin Boysen knocks on the door, hands me his typed up autobiography and leaves with as few words as he arrived with. I’ve likened this to non climbers as the equivalent of Johnny Marr and Morrissey calling round and saying they are doing a new album and would I mind producing it. Martin has delivered what I believe to be a masterpiece.

Mont Blanc – The Finest Routes. I daren’t open this book. With a family and very limited time, I’m afraid I’ll be booking tickets to Geneva and shuttling across to Chamonix at the first hint of high pressure. This book picks up as Rébuffat bows out. Glorious photos, inspiring writing, the 100 best routes in the Mont Blanc Range … many people have tried to produce such a book and this is the one that has definitely succeeded.

Our surprise best-selling biography of the year has been Adventures in Mind by Heather Dawe. Heather is not one to be underestimated, as the people finishing behind her in a mountain marathon (most, if not all, of the other competitors!) will testify. Heather’s book describes her many achievements, running, cycling and climbing, but goes a little deeper and looks at her philosophy and thoughts behind the training and competing, and at her connection with the outdoors. Heather will often email you at six or seven in the morning, just after she’s back from her first training run of the day. That kind of dedication went into writing her first book, and the deserved best seller status it has earned at Vertebrate.

Our acquisition of the publisher Bâton Wicks at the start of the year was a very special event. What can you say about Ken Wilson, founder of Bâton Wicks, a remarkable man, a gladiator and a loyal servant to the climber’s cause? His contribution to publishing goes back decades and it was with some trepidation and a massive sense of responsibility that we have slowly started work on the Bâton Wicks archive. Pete Boardman’s books Sacred Summits and The Shining Mountain are both now available on ebook, as are Joe Tasker’s Savage Arena and Everest the Cruel Way. All are proving incredibly popular. Digging deeper, the absolutely fantastic Camp Six from Frank Smythe is once again available in digital form, as is Shipton’s Everest 1951. And more titles are coming.

It has been a great year. We have a lot of people to thank. Firstly of course our customers, all you walkers, climbers and cyclists, armchair-hugging mountain dreamers, sat reading away. Hopefully you’ve got from the books what we get from them – inspiration for your own adventures.

Of course, 2014 is going to be even better. We’ve got a biography of climbing legend Ben Moon. Our first novels – including The Everest Files from Everest summiteer and established author Matt Dickinson – will be out very soon. The biggest and most comprehensive mountain bike guide yet, Great British Mountain Biking, which covers the entire UK, is out in March. There are running guidebooks, walking guides and an extensive array of historical climbing literature in ebook format.

Loads to look forward to!


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