Andy Kirkpatrick talks about Psychovertical
by Jack Geldard - UKC Chief Editor Sep/2008
This article has been read 4,423 times
Andy Kirkpatrick hosts an interactive gear question forum on UKC. You can ask Andy questions in this Premier Post. Here he answers some questions about his new book Psychovertical; How he made the transition from magazine writer to author, what his plans are for the future and which other climbing authors he rates...
Tell me about your new book
Andy Kirkpatrick© Andy Kirkpatrick, Dec 2006
The book aims to answer that million
dollar question: Why do we climb?, by telling a multi-layered story
of one climb, and one climber, looking back at every climb and
experience that led up to it. The main strand is my 12 days on the
Reticent wall in 2001, with each chapter covering one day on the
climb. In between each of these chapters their are the stories of
growing up, learning to climb, and the climbs that led up to the
Reticent, with the last climb leading in to the start of the
Reticent. Luckily for me the crux of the Reticent was the second to
last pitch, so the whole book builds nicely to this show down.
Hopefully the result of this structure is that although people (i.e.
Non climbers), may be wondering why I would set off to solo such a
route, by the end they would know why.
So what's the answer to that million
I'm afraid the answer is 95,000 words
long, and of course only applies to me.
Where did the title come from?
Silvo Karo and a Slovene team did a new
route on Torre Egger called Psychovertical, plus it's the name of my
website, but for this book it relates to an incident on the last day
when someone started shouting down the wall that I was a psycho.
When did you decide to write a book?
I've had the idea for years, ever since
I climbed the route. The funny thing is I never wrote about the
climb, and it kind of took a few years to work out why I did it, as
it was far beyond me at the time. I sketched out the structure of the
story, but never really got down to it until last year, as any kind
of creative writing took a back seat to gear articles!
So what changed?
In 2005 I got a place on a three week
writing program at the Banff centre in Canada. As it turned out Id
already agreed to do a talk for the charity Porters Progress at the
Royal Geographical Society, so had to turn it down, but being a
believer in Karma, I hoped I'd get on the following year, which I
The program was very intense, writing
everyday, with an editor checking your stuff, and with no kids or
work to disturb me, and I was able to believe I could maybe finally
write the book.
Did you find it hard getting a
Simon Yates had given me the number of
Tony Whittom, his editor at Random House a few years previously, and
I'd send him some stuff to read. He's been keen to meet up and talk
about it, but I just let it sit and sit. I knew that any budding
writer would sell their mother to have a meeting with someone like
Tony, but I suppose I was both scared of following it through, and I
think I knew I wasn't ready.
Fate plays a big part in these things,
and I found that Tony was my editor at Banff, so we worked really
closely on my writing. Tony's a climber, and has worked with a lot of
climbers (Simon Yates, Jim Perrin, Andy Cave), so he got it from the
After Banff Tony was keen to publish my
book, but in the end I got an agent and they shopped around for the
best deal. It's vital for any new author to get as high an advance as
possible, not for the money, but so the publisher really has to work
hard on promoting the book. In the end Random House got the book and
then the hard part began.
How hard was it writing a book
versus writing for magazines?
I was lucky in that I'd been writing
around 4000 words a month for about 4 years, so was used to the work
load. The first thing I did was stop working for Climb, as writing my
column (gear, A to Z and My life led up to this) would have been
impossible, plus I felt I'd got to the end of the road with writing
Tony had given me a word count of
90,000 words, so the first thing I did was cut and paste all my old
stories into my book document, which gave me about a 30,000 word head
start, or at least that's what I thought. In the end almost every
thing I'd written, and was hoping to just shoehorn into the book,
needed rewriting, either because it didn't fit the style of the book,
or because I just found it wasn't as well written as I'd thought.
How do you go from 4000 word
articles to 90,000 word books?
Writing a short story is like building
a shed, if you pay attention, and apply all you know, you should
knock up something that does the job. Writing a book is like building
a house, and a big one at that. If you make any mistakes it can affect the whole structure, and the house will be judged not by it's
best room, but by its worst. Very often in the writing process I
completely despaired that I could do it, or that I was good enough to
write the book that I'd wanted to write. I suppose I have always been
my harshest critic, and eventually I just had to write it as well as
How did you write the book?
I spent a year sitting a cafés
in Sheffield, mainly in Encliffe and Millhouses park, spending about
six hours a day just writing. Actually my favourite place to write
was the Yorkshire Sculpture park, good food, and a good view! For some reason I couldn't write anywhere quiet,
probably due to being used to two kids running round the house.
As for the writing itself, it's funny
but some chapters would be written in a day, while others took
months, but whatever time it took it was always important to let it
sit a week or two before going back to edit it.
How did this affect your climbing?
I've always been a part time climber,
so going for a month or two without climbing was OK. I went to
Patagonia with Ian Parnell and Yosemite with Karen Darke, but where
ever I went my Mac Book was always by my side.
What do you think of climbing
I think writing about climbing, and
making it interesting is tough, especially if you're writing to both
climbers and non climbers. I thought early on that it was important
to get a style that worked for me, and after many years of trying I
ended up believing that a light touch was best for me, and what lay
in the spaces between the words was just as important as the words
themselves. Too many writers try and paint the full picture when it's
not necessary. One of the most important things I learnt about
writing was you must never tell the reader how you feel, only the
situation you are in, so that they can empathize with the writer.
Who are your favourite climbing
I've always liked writers like Ed
Drummond, and think his dream of white horses book is great. I also
like Andy Cave's writing, and some of Mark Twight's stuff (but not
all). I guess I like an honest writing style, and ideally with the
minimum of stuff about actually climbing!
What are your future plans?
I always envisaged Psychovertical as
part one of a trilogy of books, and have the next one all mapped out.
Psychovertical deals with what motivates a person to climb, where as
the next book deals with how this affects others. But before that I need to get my ass in
gear and start climbing, rather than just writing about it!
Psychovertical is published by
Hutchinson, and is available from September the 18th.
Signed copies can be bought from Andy's