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AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Mike Trueman, The Storms

Thursday, 23 April 2015
Vertebrate's Tori Halliday talks to Mike Trueman – author of The Storms – about mountain adventure, Everest expeditions, military life, and breakfasting. 
Mike, you spent over twenty years working for the army, including positions with Britain’s Brigade of Gurkhas, the Army Air Corps and the Army Mountain Training Centre. Do you miss military life?

Mike TruemanI look back on my military career with fond memories but I don’t miss the way of life. I joined the army at sixteen in 1968 and served for twenty-four years until 1992. Bizarrely, in 2007, at the age of fifty-five, I joined the army again for a year to command a United Nations team tasked with verifying the status of Maoist combatants after the end of the civil war in Nepal. One of our major tasks was to identify and remove ‘boy’ soldiers who were aged sixteen and under – I felt life had gone its full circle!

I grasped every opportunity I was offered in the army, and there were many, but life beyond the army also has much to offer, and I have never given up seeking new challenges.  
You’ve led expeditions to jungles, deserts, and mountains. Which of these environments have you found the most testing?
I have spent months living in jungles, deserts and mountains. When the weather is bad, in each environment, life can be very uncomfortable and testing, and can lead to tragedy. I love being in all three environments but on a good day the jungle can be the most comfortable; there is normally a ready supply of water and even at night it is never too cold.

Your new book The Storms describes a life of incredible variety. Where does your appetite for adventure spring from?

I was the second of two children and my brother was born with severe brain damage. He was eight years older than me and went into care when I was born, and he still needs 24/7 care sixty-three years later. I had great parents and a very happy childhood, but I often had to create my own games and adventures. I was also never happy with accepting that I couldn’t do something in life and the more I looked for new opportunities, the more I was able to experience what life had to offer – I should acknowledge that the army certainly offered opportunities which I would never have considered if I had chosen a non-military career.
The book also details your personal involvement in the 1996 Everest storm disaster, when you helped to coordinate rescue efforts from Base Camp. Did the experience temper your enthusiasm for mountain expeditions?
No tragedy I have experienced has impacted on my enthusiasm for the mountains, but it doesn’t mean I have not been personally affected. The death of fellow climbers who are seeking to experience what ‘life has to offer’ is immensely sad, but when it happens on a mountain the first priority is to ensure that there is no further loss of life – the grieving can then begin, and in 1996 this started when we left Base Camp.
On reflection, the death of Mike Matthews in 1999 did have an impact, because he was the same age as my own children. He was a wonderful young man, and whilst Everest means a lot to many mountaineers, I have never come to believe that it is worth a young life.  
You went on to found the expedition company True Adventure. What do you find the biggest challenges and rewards of running such a business?

The biggest rewards come from the hundreds of students who return each year from their expeditions having achieved something very special. I know from those who went on expeditions with us in years gone by that their enthusiasm to explore what life has to offer was ignited by their time on expedition with True Adventure.
The challenges come from a growing business – fortunately I am very well supported by our staff, teachers and schools as we plan where next to go on expedition in a world that changes day by day.
You’re off out for a long day in the hills. What’s your breakfast of choice?
There is only one breakfast for the hills – a full English (I hope my wife doesn’t read this). This is my choice simply because I can keep going for the rest of the day!
Finally, which books would you recommend for adventurous spirits?
I am a great Boardman, Tasker and Chris Bonington fan, and I would recommend any of their books to those with an adventurous spirit. Peter’s Shining Mountain is a particular favourite.
My bookshelf at home is full of the biographies and tales of daring do from the last century, and including in those I would readily particularly recommend are Tom Patey’s One Man’s Mountains, and Heinrich Harrer’s The White Spider.
Mike's book The Storms will be published on 1 May 2015 and is available to pre-order from the Vertebrate website priced £12.99.
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