Chris Craggs is a regular face on the UKC forums, usually causing a bit of mischief. He has been involved in guidebook production for at least 300 years, and has recently ticked his 1000th route at Stanage. Here he gives us the ins and outs (and ups and downs!) of guidebook writing. Fresh off the press is his new masterpiece Lofoten Rock.
Name: Chris Craggs (not a pseudonym!)
Job Title: Guidebook writer
Relevant Qualifications: O-level English!
Salary: More than I used to earn teaching though it has taken several years to get to the current position! One attraction is though, once a book is published the payments roll in for quite a long time, if I didn't do another stroke, I would have an income (a diminishing income though!) for the next five years or so.
Perks and holidays/time off:
I work when I want and climb when I want – usually basing my week ahead around the weather forecast. When I am in the Peak I tend to avoid weekends on the rock, and just grab the best days Monday to Friday. The job does mean that I tend to be on '24/7' as there is always something (and usually a lot of things) that need doing.
Another perk – I get to travel when everyone else is at work, just travelling a few days either side of a holiday can save a packet.
And another – I get to play with cameras and computers a lot, which I like!
Now I am getting on, it's a nice way of staying in touch with climbers and climbing, a great reason to visit old haunts and check out new venues.
Describe your job:
I write guidebooks for a living, from the earliest stages, researching areas, climbing the routes (wherever possible!), photographing the cliffs, writing up the descriptions, processing all the photographs, drawing the topos, doing the rough layout and counting the coloured spots!
How did you get this job? How long did it take? Any hardships? Did you always want it or did it just happen?
I studied with the Open University back in the 1980s and when I finished my degree I looked around for something to do with the newly released 'spare' time. Articles in the mags were pretty weak back then so I took some shots and fired a few off – and they got printed.
A go at a guidebook of my own seemed like a logical step, I contacted Cicerone and did a small guide to the Costa Blanca. They printed 3000 (minimum print run) and laughed when I said it would sell well – it sold out! After several years and a clutch of guides I wanted to get more involved with the production side, (the books often took well over a year between me handing them over, and the volume appearing in the shops) but their payment structure and way of working didn't really suite this. So I approached Alan James of RockFax, he took a gamble and invested time in training me up, and we produced Peak Grit East, which became the UK's best selling guidebook and even won a Guidebook of the Year award! It became obvious whilst we were working on the guide that we had stumbled on a very special formula. The advent of digital cameras and the falling cost of full colour printing helped. I spent my teaching backpay award on a new Mac and digital camera - it was probably the best investment I ever made! Alan is the reason we do so well – I am good at the donkey-work but he is the techie whiz and has a superb eye for the design/layout.
What attracted you to the job in the first place?
An escape from teaching! I love being my own boss, working to my own deadlines and not having to rely on others. I have never had any problems self-motivating, and enjoy the long-haul that a guidebook needs – often 2 years+ from start to finish.
How long have you been in the job now? How long do you see yourself continuing?
My first guide was published in 1991, I continued part-time teaching up to about 2002 and then went full time writing the guidebooks. I guess as long as I can walk, point a camera and type I can keep going.
Describe your average day at work? And the average week?
Get up about 8:30, turn the machine on about 9:00, answer e-mails, do a bit of photo sorting/editing, type some text, work on topos, maybe scan some slides, and plod on with the odd break until about 9:30/10 pm then have a bit of down-time. Crash about 1:00am. Unless it has been a nice day, in which case I will have been out climbing/researching for most of it.
The last two years we have been to Spain and France for four months in the winter, I can work as well down there – and it is a lot more pleasant than the UK
Is it how you/other people imagine it to be?
I have grown into the job, so never really had any preconceptions. Other folks seem to think it is easy, a digital camera and a computer and anyone could do it!
The best day? The worst day?
Some days, especially towards the end of the production of a book can be a real grind, proofing something for the n'th time, researching and writing the never-ending intros, but overall, those kind of days are few and far between and are all part of the job. Best Days, when the finished item arrives, after all the hard work – a great buzz.
Why is it great being a Guidebook Writer, and why is it rubbish?
It is really great to see the final product of your labours, especially when it ends up being well received. It always generates a little smile when I see one my books out there 'in the field'.
After all these years I still get upset by the critics who knock my books, and I guess I always will – I put it down to jealousy.
Do you 'love' your job? Why? Why not?
Yes – I think I do – it has shaped my life, given me freedom I could never have imagined in my 25 years of teaching.
If a teenager said to you 'I want to be a Guidebook Writer, like you' – what would you say? Recommend it? Warn them off? Laugh?!
Say “Give it a go” but be prepared for the rejection – it isn't an easy road.
Any tips and advice on how to get to where you've got to?
There are no short-cuts, dedication and hard graft are all it takes, attention to detail and dogged determination to get it right. If you do the thing half-right, it is only yourself you are short-changing, and the guidebook buying public will soon let you know!
Any friends through work?
Well Alan James who I get on very well with, most of my other friends/climbing partners I have know for 30+ years – I am still dragging them out on research/photo trips.
Any amazing stories?
I finally got to the Lofoten Islands a few years back after 40 years of dreaming. On seeing the route I really wanted to do on The Goat, Sherri said she would hire me a guide (well what she said was a lot less polite then that). Turns out it was the owner of the local climbing school Thorjørn Enevold. When he found out who I was he said they were a little scared of RockFax. Anyhow we did the route and later that year I sent him a copy of our new Costa Blanca guide. The following year we were back again, and we called in at the climbing school – he took me aside and asked (hushed tones!) if maybe I could do a guide for them as the Webster one was close to selling out. I asked what he had in mind and he shot over to the bookshelf and came back with the Blanca guide – “one just like this”!
And finally - What's your dream job? Why?
I already have it!
You can read more about Chris Craggs on his blog and most of his current books are on the Rockfax site. Keep an eye out for his postings on the UKC Forums which tend to be forthright and 'to the point'. That is just Chris "telling it like it is"!