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The Golden Age of Mountaineering publishing

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Our managing director reflects upon Vertebrate's publishing legacy ...

I recently posted on Facebook that I felt I’d achieved what I’d set out to do by publishing books, and would be scaling back a little on the whole climbing literature thing. I was of course flattered that I received comments and a few questions, so I thought I'd better elaborate a little on what I said ...

One never feels that one’s had the best day ever; we always think as climbers, mountain bikers, fell runners or even just canal towpath amblers, that there’re going to be more days, even better days to come. My first big trip away was to Banff, when I was sixteen, three weeks in the Canadian Rockies. I remember the local paper ran an article and called it ‘a trip of a lifetime’; I never thought that, I just saw it as a trip, one of many that would hopefully follow.

I think differently about our mountaineering books. I know I can’t keep saying ‘this is the best climbing book I have ever read’, especially when one picks up Tilman every now and again to reset the barometer on quality. Indeed I feel, and I’m hoping a few of you will excuse the hubris here, that the golden age of Vertebrate publishing its mountain literature began with receipt of John Porter’s manuscript for what would become One Day as a Tiger, and ended with the reunion of the characters of The Bond. Of course I know other people have produced very fine books, before, during and certainly beyond our endeavours, but that time for us between publishing One Day as a Tiger and publishing The Bond has been quite amazing. The titles are thus; Statement, In Some Lost Place, The Fight For Everest 1924, Up and About, Punk in the Gym and The Bond. Everything has gone into these books and I don’t think we could have done any more to make them better. I’m sure other people could, as a few reviews helpfully point out, but the combination of characters, stories, editing, production, design, printing and then support from our readers has combined to produce our best work. We had a bit of a reputation, so got the lucky breaks with the best submissions, we have an outstanding team here at Psalter Lane to put the books together, many many great readers who support our every title (thanks), and this all helps – the harder we tried, the luckier we got.

I really don’t see us ever producing a run of half a dozen books as good as we could have done between One Day as a Tiger winning the Grand Prize at Banff and Simon McCartney’s The Bond winning the lit award there. I’m proud to say I think we have achieved what we set out to do when we first decided to produce mountaineering literature.

We will do other books, and maybe a story as good as Andy Pollitt’s or Simon McCartney’s will pop up one day, but we will now concentrate on fewer books and reflect a little, reread some of them, and hopefully these will be our classic books, our Cenotaph Corners, our Matterhorns.

Full circle, I’m in Banff again now. I’m enjoying the trip I’m on, and looking forward to the next trip to come. I’ll probably meet a few folk tonight in the bar, undoubtedly one of them will have written a book to show me, or perhaps suggest a trail to go running along, or a climb to go do.

Signed copies of 1001 Climbing Tips, Chris Bonington Mountaineer, Wild Country, Hanging On, Up and About, Beyond Limits, Statement, Adventures in Mind, Cold Wars, One Day as a Tiger, Punk in the GymRevelations, Rock Athlete, Troll Wall, In Some Lost Place, The Wild Within, Darkness Beckons, Days to Remember and My Father, Frank are now available to buy.    

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