"On another occasion I held the head of an inmate, pushing a gym vest into the hole in his skull where he had been hit twice over the back of the head as he leaned forward to pick up a weight from the floor. A contract had been taken out on the inmate as it had been discovered that he was a paedophile. The price I found out later was a twenty pound crack deal. The second swing from the iron weight-training bar puncturing the inmate’s skull, saving his life, reducing the pressure that had built from the first death-dealing blow. I wallowed in tangled, twisted, sticky, strings of clear cerebral fluid that hung from his ears like Nepalese prayer flags."
In reply to Simon Caldwell: Some vivid stuff, but IMO the prison vs mountain leitmotiv was overplayed; and there were too many "the x was like a y". But definitely distinctive and tough - making a change from more prosaic, descriptive accounts.
In reply to Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com: Woah. The description of the climber to the side pulling a rock out, hitting the belayer, and the tension described about the author still getting up his own climb.... deep breath. All good stuff. You here a lot of epics re-told on UKC, this one I could really feel and picture it. Well done.
In reply to Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com:
Compelling subject matter with something to say and to share - sadly not well written.
Still - I bet Nick has a lot of writing in him and with a bit more experience and maybe some advice from good writers, I look forward to more from him.
Nice to see someone trying to conjure stuff up, though, rather than just do a straight timeline. Agree that it needs a heavy edit, but still nice to see someone getting ambitiously post-Beat about a mountaineering story.
Best article I have seen on here. Similarities to Mark Twight's writing strike me, the rawness and honesty, but not in a negative way. Nick Bullock doesn't seem self- obsessed, compared to Twight! Mind you, it would be hard to beat Twight at that game....
> (In reply to Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com)
> Possibly the worst piece of drivel i have ever come across.
Maybe you should read a bit more?
> How anyone can turn such incredible adventures and gritty life experiences into something so unreadable is beyond me.
> I tried again after reading the postings, i thought I must be missing something. Nope.
I disagree. Could maybe have been pared down a bit and possibly overdid the prison metaphors, but I found it well written.
Pros - very passionate and a different angle
Cons - less different as it went on; lots of repetition (which, if it was deliberate, didn't work for me, and, if it wasn't deliberate, is poor editing; for example the repeat of "bulging" in the opening)
But the biggest negative for me was that it was sooo "down" about something which, although sometimes physically uncomfortable, generally gives people such a huge, rewarding buzz.
For example, we all know altitude is tough - but you do it for the reward of the route and the experience of testing yourself. It's not some grim, nightmarish thing imposed on you in a place where the rules have got unrecognisably twisted; it's a choice.
The piece is quite long - but I did read all of it.
It did come across (to me anyway) a bit too chest-beating and "look how tough I am" (I'm sure he is tough btw...but is the bragging necessary?).
Bit depressing overall - and not how I see mountaineering or climbing at all. Glad it got written/posted though.
The thing is i think Nick bullocks inspiration evidently comes from the likes of Twight, as his influence is every where for those who adhere to the fast and light maxim, Twight truly was a visionary, his writings really do catch the grity realism of hard core Alpinism, i find Nick Bullocks prose to be tedious and really quite pretentious, he trys just a little to hard, to flower up events imho.
I have met Nick on a couple of occasions in Gartree, purely on a professional basis I might add.
The first time I met him was quite surreal in that the convoluted conversation we had led to what are you doing this weekend to eventually realising that shortly Nick was off attempting a first ascent in India and likewise I was off to the Pamirs doing the same.
In reply to MeMeMe: People can disagree - we're all entitled to our assessments. People have been very fulsome in praise for it, so I'm venturing a slightly more critical voice. I've read it again, and, although it has some very vivid sentences of brutal power, it is IMO overstuffed with (sometimes pretentious) similes, and peppered with cliches and grammatical lapses. Could have been compressed to half the length. Hope the book is more tightly edited. But, I'll admit I'm swayed by my own tastes - I don't like the Tough Guy (Bukowski, Palahniuk. Hemingway) School of Action Writing - and as, I originally posted, it still strikes me as a distinctive brave bold swaggering experiment in writing that seeks to capture the author's bold brave and steely climbs.
Come on, you can't start picking grammatical or stylistic holes in it - be reasonable. Hemingway? F*cking Hemingway? You can stuff that Chrysanthou!
It's more of a challenge to find grammatical errors in a Climber article written by a regular contributor who's supposedly well read and cultured and has two good english degrees, and noone ever points out those.
It's like saying: "I read the Hard Years, and found the vocabulary wasn't as diverse as many other literary classic's I've enjoyed". Who's got the problem there, the critic or the author?
In reply to Marc C: You haven't even mentioned the spelling mistakes yet.
I agree that the article is in need of editing, but for me the whole point of it was that once I started to read it my dreary office surroundings and the mundane realities of programming the Reader's Digest sweepstake dropped away - the subject matter was so new to me and so vividly presented that my attention was rivetted to it until it came to an end.
I do not remember reading anything else which has suggested so vividly the forces that can drive a person to willingly embrace the masochism of leading edge Himalayan mountaineering.
In defence of the editing: Mick and I deal with what we get sent, using the limited time we have. In most cases we give the articles a once over to check spelling and punctuation and a brief edit. In this case both Mick and I went through it once and worked on punctuation mainly. We didn't want to change the rawness of it and it isn't really our position to, after all, no-one is being paid for this.
I personally think that the rawness adds power to the article. I think also that the reason the editing is being talked about is simply because it is such a powerful piece. The editing on most of the other UKC articles is much the same but seldom gets called into question.
My other thought after reading this article was that, had I not sold my ice axe and crampons in 1989, then I would do so now.
In reply to Alan James - UKC: I'm not complaining about the article - I agree with Marc that it would have benefited from skilled editing, but I stand by my original opinion that it is the most powerful piece of writing to have been posted on UKC.
Were I to be in the position of editing it in preparation for publication I would definitely have suggested to Nick that some parts of it were less successful than others, but I really hope that he succeeds in transforming it into a book. I believe that he is capable of creating a Boardman / Tasker winner from this sort of material, and I read it first on UKC.
I think the problem is that you get a piece of writing like this, and it stands out as something unusually experimental and brave for climbing literature (which is very often pretty conservative and rather inept, quite frankly, however great the stories), and lots of people start praising it unreservedly, when it clearly has a lot of basic flaws as a piece of writing. That makes others want to say hang on, it's not exactly THAT fantastic - what about all this stuff?
If people were a bit more balanced in their praise, and recognised that there is also a basic issue of how well a story is being told, we wouldn't end up with a set of responses that are now starting to look a bit polarised. Excessive praise attracts its opposite. Just because something is about climbing doesn't make it exempt from all usual rules of effective composition and style.
Fair enough and it is good that there is a place for new authors with something to say, perhaps in a different manner, to get an airing for their efforts. I have read it in detail and the lasting memory is more of the style than the content, which is a shame.
Nick Bullock has something worthwhile to say on his subjects and clearly has his own way of doing things. That is good. I don't see the article as either drivel or brilliant in the current form
Would I go and pay good money for a couple of hundred pages of the same? I very much doubt it. What I would pay good money for would be a book written in the authors own style and words with the benefit of a good editor who knows how to produce the polished article, not a first draft.
Hopefully Nick can take the feedback, positive and negative and learn from it. As to UKC great you published it and hopefully more new authors might get an airing through it.
Yeah, that's worth a slap on the back. Nice to see somewhere where a bit of more experimental climbing stuff can get an airing, and the platform is a gift for a new writer. The criticism is all good too, in my opinion. Nothing helps someone's writing like criticism, as long as it's trying to be objective.
I'm sure I'm not alone in the world, in that I'd rather have a good story badly told to me than a bad one glossed up, especially if it's about climbing. The gist matters more than the details.
I'll take your point about people criticising people's critcism that was criticising someone elses criticism; the point gets lost and tempers increase for no reason.
But I still can't stand it when people we'd like to hear more of, get what would initially appear to them to be a hostile reception. With that simile thing, it was only the same as what Andy K did with his story about mantelling on an axe, then laying away on a rounded arete with t'other, punctuated by anecdotes about dyslexia testing. That was a great one all the same. I read it twice and would do so again, and there's no greater compliment than that.
I'm sure many people are getting a great deal of enjoyment from Nick's essay AND...........the kicker as always on the internet.......he's getting some great feedback of all kinds.....both good and bad......
> he's getting some great feedback of all kinds.....both good and bad......
The trick is taking on what's valuable from BOTH sides, and ignoring both the excessive praise and the irrelevant criticism. The trick ain't loving the praise and hating the criticism (not saying he's done either). I look forward to more, anyway.
> But I still can't stand it when people we'd like to hear more of, get what would initially appear to them to be a hostile reception.
I think he generally got a good reception, but feedback is absolutely vital. Check out any writing agency's guidelines and advice to anyone submitting material. You need feedback, you need the ability to self-edit, then you need more feedback and more editing, and then more, probably. I heard a famous writer recently saying most of his stuff was probably edited and revised about 70 times. That might be a slightly extreme case, but it gives some idea of the level of discipline involved in mainstream writing. And why should any kind of writer regard their stuff as less worthy of perfecting?
Etak23 Nov 2006
In reply to Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com: i'll add my voice to those that liked it - different angle - some passion enough to keep me readin all teh way through which isn;t the case with a lot of climbing articles - I'd read his book
keep publishing new stuff by people with something to say
> It's more of a challenge to find grammatical errors in a Climber article written by a regular contributor who's supposedly well read and cultured and has two good english degrees, and noone ever points out those.
I'm a supporter of the British climbing mags, but grammatical errors or not, Climber at the moment seems to be mainly Mike Robertson listing routes and grades at crag Y in a wildly enthusiastic way. Grammatical errors would at least make the list of names and grades interspersed by comments on how "brill" or "fab" that route is, slightly more interesting.
> It's like saying: "I read the Hard Years, and found the vocabulary wasn't as diverse as many other literary classic's I've enjoyed". Who's got the problem there, the critic or the author?
Can I say that "I read the Hard Years, and found it rather boring. I never finished the last chapters which is incredibly rare for me." or do I get strung up for questioning the master?
Overall I enjoyed Nick's article but I was actually more interested in reading about prison guard life than the climbing. Fellow Oz ( http://www.hbo.com/oz/ ) fans would understand.
> I'm a supporter of the British climbing mags, but grammatical errors or not, Climber at the moment seems to be mainly Mike Robertson listing routes and grades at crag Y in a wildly enthusiastic way. Grammatical errors would at least make the list of names and grades interspersed by comments on how "brill" or "fab" that route is, slightly more interesting.
climber has been hsite for the last year and bit now.
Virtical looks quite good
Gravity was good, but didn't have a very 'professional' layout.
Climb had a great start, but is starting to go down the pan, mainly because of poor/not big enough photographs, the person who choose not to put any full page shots in the birkett article should be shot.
one thought, from someone who read the article quickly and added the first bit of 'instant reaction' comment - what is it that makes this article different from others that have been posted on here? There's a lot of frankly terrible writing in some of the other articles, but there are also some great tales, and nobody's being so rigorous in their analysis of the quality of the writing on those... Nick Bullock is a world-class mountaineer, right? Why should he also be perfect and polished in what he offers up here for our analysis? Maybe he's not gone through the same rigorous honing process that 'proper writers' (whatever they are) go through... and maybe the editing hasn't been as tight as it could have been... but the main thing is that he's put it up here. That's a lot more balls than a lot of the 'writers' on the site have. I know that though I care about writing more than most other things in life, I've still not quite got the balls to put anything up on here.
It's a start. It's got a lot of people talking about it. It's got someone as delightfully coddled-middle-class as me thinking not only about the full horrors of the worst that the mountains can throw at you but also the worst that the prison service can throw at you (buckets of piss, it seems).
Interesting stuff... the article, yes, but also the responses.
andy kirkpatrick23 Nov 2006
I'm very critical of peoples writing (including my own), and having spent 3 weeks solid working on one chapter in the Banff writing program, I thought I'd pass on a few thoughts I have on writing, to any one who’s listening.
NEVER talk about grades.
NEVER use the word 'Suddenly'.
NEVER us exclamation marks.
AVOID similes at all costs (1 per chapter – not one per paragraph).
Keep your writing simple and as short as possible (500, 1000, 2000 words).
AVOID blow by blow accounts of moves etc.
DON’T try and impress people by how hard you are, or what a good climber you are.
Never tell anyone how you're feeling (I felt...ect), only tell them the situation you're in.
Find a good editor and listen to them.
Don’t listen to the 85% of people who tell you your writings good, rather take notice of the 15% that tell you it’s crap (it probably is).
I don’t like Nick’s style personally (it’s hard to digest and I always feel he’s trying to impress me to much, and for far too long), but he has four star adventures and combines them with four star ideas. I think he could come up with a really great book - but without a very strong editor and a willingness to learn and change his style, I can't see it.
Of course the hardest thing is to write something interesting, moving and valuable, which can be understood by non climbers.
> (In reply to Steve Parker)
> one thought, from someone who read the article quickly and added the first bit of 'instant reaction' comment - what is it that makes this article different from others that have been posted on here? There's a lot of frankly terrible writing in some of the other articles, but there are also some great tales, and nobody's being so rigorous in their analysis of the quality of the writing on those...
As I suggested above, inappropriate levels of praise can attract inappropriate levels of criticism. I seem to have got myself stuck in the middle, as usual. I don't see that anyone is really objecting to Nick putting up his stuff in whatever form, though, just to some of the overblown comments it attracted.
You mention having the balls to put something up - I would have thought any writer who genuinely believed in what they were doing would see the opportunity as a gift, not a matter of courage.
> It's a start.
Yes, of course it is. As is anyone coming down after a great adventure and spilling his/her mind, but it doesn't just do that - it has literary and stylistic ambitions, and they don't always work. It's not the same as your mate in the pub ranting about the day's epic, it attempts to be a literary piece, and therefore it attracts responses. And if some of those are over the top, they'll be responded to.
I'm not quite sure why anyone (not especially you) is at all bothered that there hasn't been wall to wall glowing about a piece of writing.
I'm not really into posting things on forums, but for once i think it is probably right to do so.
As someone who only passed his english o level with a c, it may have been lower than that, i dont know as i didnt bother to find out, it is, and has been a very steep learning curve with the writing. I think most of the comments here are valid. I will read my article again to see if i agree with the "chest banging" and "pretencious"...i certainly did not intend to "bang my chest." Maybe it would help me to know exactly which comments are guilty of me being up-my-own-arse...
i know i still have a long way to go...fortunately i have very good friends who have helped me and are helping with the book draft.I live and learn.
in all of my writing i have experimented and played around. I like that, and i distinctly remember going out in this piece to see how far i could take metaphore and simili, and how gritty i could make it. I do think that a point made in these comments along the lines of there is stuff you like and stuff you dont, it doesnt make it rubbish because you dont like it, it just means it is not to your taste. This is valid i feel on a lot in life.
It is very interesting for me to see that for some this style is hated, and for some it is loved. All i know is it has stirred emotion. That in itself is pleasing.
finally, thanks for everyone for constuctive critisism, and thanks for praise.
In reply to Steve Parker and Andy K: Agree very much with what you've both written. I was never saying it wasn't a distinctive, arresting article - but just felt it was too self-consciously drenched in similes and metaphors - and contained flaws which prevented it being the 'great' piece of writing others claimed it to be. As you say, sometimes it's well-intentioned thoughtful criticisms that help a writer polish his or her stuff, more than just uniform praise.
In reply to CJD: I really don't understand your comment about it taking 'balls' to post articles on here? As for the little dig at other 'writers' on here lacking such courage, I don't know who you are referring to? For example, the Poetry Thread has been a wonderful forum for people taking - or rather, ignoring - risks; just letting their pens go whereever their Muses take them.
I suspect the responses were more the source of contention than your piece, Nick. You've got powerful stuff to tell, though there might be some debate about the style. The important thing is to keep doing it. All the best with it.
> In reply to CJD: I really don't understand your comment about it taking 'balls' to post articles on here?
it's taking a risk and opening oneself up to criticism, no? I agree with what steve says about it being a fantastic opportunity for feedback, but in putting a bit of yourself out there there's got to be a bit of bravery, in my book.
> As for the little dig at other 'writers' on here lacking such courage, I don't know who you are referring to? For example, the Poetry Thread has been a wonderful forum for people taking - or rather, ignoring - risks; just letting their pens go whereever their Muses take them.
I would agree with that, and I'm not so sure you should read it as a 'dig'. It's just that sometimes people are very ready to criticise but can sometimes be reluctant to open themselves up to such scrutiny, and that applies right across the range of what this site is about. I think, for what it's worth, I'd probably put myself in that category.A
> I agree with what steve says about it being a fantastic opportunity for feedback,
Never mind that, it's a fantastic opportunity for something very close to publication. That's what I meant.
> I'm not so sure you should read it as a 'dig'. It's just that sometimes people are very ready to criticise but can sometimes be reluctant to open themselves up to such scrutiny
I suspect you'll find that most of the criticism (critique might be a better word) has come from those who are very prepared to (and regularly do) expose themselves to the same. I also have little respect for people who just want to jump in and rain on someone's weekend without ever sticking their own heads above the trench.
> (In reply to nick bullock)
> I suspect the responses were more the source of contention than your piece, Nick.
I mean....I think you are wrong sweetheart.
I read it and loved it. I contend that it is still the strongest piece of writing I've read in any climbing media this year.......(I'm bored of Perrin and I can write crag reviews until the belay bunny comes home)...bestus in either in print or on the interweb (some of Marc C's comes close btw). My criteria for that is....do I keep reading it (I fall flat on that a lot of time)......does it engage me....does it make me want read it again.....can I feel any emotions when I read it......do I mention it to anyone else......does it inspire me (for what I'm never sure)
Lads got a great future, I'm sure he'll take note of some of Andy K's creative writing class 'rules' and because Nick (via Tom B) kindly sent it to us to publish karma dictates that he will get much back.
> It's just that sometimes people are very ready to criticise but can sometimes be reluctant to open themselves up to such scrutiny, and that applies right across the range of what this site is about. I think, for what it's worth, I'd probably put myself in that category.>
Agree that in life, generally, bystanders can be the most sneering 'critics', but genuinely don't feel that was the case here (as Steve says). Many of us UKC 'writers' happily post pages of our 'monsterpieces' on here and take the praise and brickbats!
In reply to Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com:
I think this article is a brilliant visceral heart and guts on the sleeve piece of writing about life and climbing. I want to read more of this style. Keep it up mate.
One reason why many posters are critical of your writing is maybe because they can't relate to what you were climbing. So they pick up on your writing style. I thought Footsteps, your story in your website was good, one reason was, I had climbed that route.
Anyway, more seriously, just to make sure no one gets my stand on this one inflated by my apparent siding with the negatives: I think UKC did a good job by publishing it, and I think (as I said right from the start) it's great to see someone actually trying to use some writing technique with a climbing article. There are caveats, but I totally applaud both the publishing and the intentions of the writing.
> My criteria for that is....do I keep reading it (I fall flat on that a lot of time)......does it engage me....does it make me want read it again.....can I feel any emotions when I read it......do I mention it to anyone else......does it inspire me (for what I'm never sure)
Oi Bollocks! Are you that obsessive loon I used to belay at The Tower?
Hope all is well with you and yours. FWIW I liked the piece; keep it up! You don't need to listen to half the shit posted on this thread; being able to write very well about sod all is what keeps half these folk busy. Listen to the other half, and don't rush the book.
See, I knew this would get me challenged like that! I'm doing too much writing anyway. If I get time to think about doing something like a climbing article, I might offer one up. Got a few good stories, actually (haven't we all?). My writing imperatives are elsewhere at the moment, though.
One thing I do like about the article is that it's certainly got people talking!
I often think of literature and climbing literature in particular as a combination of style and substance. If the style is good (well written) then the substance isn't so important; if the substance is good then the style isn't so important; if both are good then it'll be fantastic.
I think that style is probably more importance than substance. A good writer can make a good story about the dullest event and a poor writer can make the most exciting tale sound dull.
Of course people have their own opinion of the style and substance of a piece of work, it's a subjective thing. For me the style of the article spoiled my enjoyment of it, the similes were so over the top that i found it hard to take any of it seriously. The substance seemed interesting but the style was not to my taste. I think the substance of the piece would shine through better if the layer of garish similes was a little thinner.
Anyway, good luck with it, I replied rather facetiously earlier in the thread and felt that was rather unfair.
> (In reply to Norrie Muir)
> A good author should take us outside our ordinary experience and help us relate to those things that are different. Reading would be a dull affair were that not the case.
As a self confessed philistine in mountaineering literature among other subjects. It is welcome that we dullards are catered for a change.
The subject matter is intense and the scenes are powerful, but I think you go over the top in expressing them. You say that you went out of your way to push the similes and metaphors - for me, it's too much at times. Strings of brain fluid like Tibetan prayer flags? Really?
You are absolutely right to keep at it though - keep plugging away and you'll find your voice.
Believe that you are writing for no one but yourself, that no one will ever read what you have written. It will help you to stop playing up to your audience.