Well that was a busy 48 hours! It’s times like these when you realise just how wide your ‘network’ is. Or isn’t. Although I’m happy to report that mine appears to be flourishing. And it always comes as a welcome surprise when you hear that people out there have actually read – no, not just read, enjoyed – the words you’ve written.
A couple of weeks ago, we were out for Sunday ‘tea’ at The Bridge in Buttermere, with our favourite ski instructor and wedding photographer, Martin, and his wife, Harriet. He too dabbles on a collection of blogs, websites and social media profiles, promoting his summer photography business and his winter snow business, along with a project featuring the stories of the many – and diverse – characters he meets along the way (everyone has a story, after all), as well as helping promote the off piste powder courses we ‘torture’ ourselves with every December. In more than one of these, the Gremlin and I have featured in various states of dress and piste-worthiness. Up to the eyeballs in goggles, breathable this-and-that, dayglo Arcteryx and avalanche bleepers one minute, all matching dayglo pink and grey wedding kit the next. The common theme being dayglo.
Anyway, we were discussing the relative merits of social media, for brand-promotion in particular, not least whether anyone has actually worked out how it works. I have yet to meet the person who has truly captured this secret of the universe (although I’ve met plenty who claim they have). For, like the unicorn, it is a mystery, its nature ephemeral in the extreme. Enchanting, mesmerising and bloody impossible to pin down. For, once the unicorn is glimpsed, it shimmers into dust.
‘Who reads your blog?’ asks Martin. ‘Who’s it aimed at?’
And, breaking every rule I ever learned in the world of work about knowing your market, targeting your ‘brand’ (is Hackette on the How my ‘brand’ now? I suppose it must be), I simply replied. ‘I haven’t a clue.’ And right then and there, I wasn’t really too bothered about it. I write this because I want to write it. For me. Not at the behest of anyone else’s brief or the weight of any mortgage or imminent tax bill, pressing down on my shoulders.
And I suspect many of those who have been used to writing or drawing to someone else’s brief for an entire career will know what I mean when I say how hard it can be to ‘just do it’. Be creative. For yourself. Without a deadline, for goodness sake. Without some ‘suit’ exhorting you to ‘make the client’s logo bigger’ or ‘fill that bit of white space’. (That bit of white space there? Which lends such an air of style to the client’s advertising presence? That bit of style which you are about to destroy because white space frightens the shiny-seated pants off you? Yes that one).
It takes practice. And time. A change of mind-set.
Then I got the email, Tuesday morning.
‘We are delighted to be contacting you as you have been shortlisted for The Great Outdoors Awards 2016 for Risking Life and Limb: Celebrating 50 years of the Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Organisation. In our public awards, anyone who enjoys hillwalking and backpacking in the British Isles has the opportunity to nominate and vote for their favourite retailers, campaigners and personalities, as well as the outdoor book they’ve found most inspiring this year.’
And something shifted.
To say I went into marketing overdrive would be an understatement. Regular readers will know that the book and I were also put forward for both the Banff Mountain Literature and Boardman Tasker awards, judged by panels drawn from the ‘mountain literati’, and both of which attract a cash prize for the author and huge kudos in the world of mountain publishing. Sadly, in ‘mountain literary’ terms, if being nominated represents Base Camp, then we failed to climb much past Camp 1. The air up there on the summit is clearly far too rarified for the likes of me. Maybe next time. With oxygen.
But this one. This one is different. This one came from someone out there who has actually read the book, unprompted by free review copies and glittering fees. (I have no idea whether these judges actually command glittering fees but there must surely be some reward for clambering your way through a towering pile of rock-strewn literature when you’d really rather be out there doing it for real). Yes, this one came from someone who took the trouble to buy it, then read it and enjoyed it sufficiently to sit down at their keyboard and nominate it for an award with ‘Britain’s original outdoor magazine’. Now that’s an accolade.
And, rather than a worthy panel of mountain gods, it’s the public who decide who wins.
That said, once again, I appear to be up there (at my virtual Camp 2, this time) with some well-known mountain names. I confess, I am more than a little anxious to be pitched against TGO’s regular contributor and gear editor Chris Townsend, author of some 22 books on the outdoors (billed by his publisher’s as ‘the UK’s most experienced long-distance walker’ <gulp>). I can’t help thinking that might offer him something of an advantage. I mean, he has a beard and everything. Sun-creased eyes that have seen the world from many tops, witnessed grizzly bears and bald eagles and rattlesnakes at close quarters. I bet he drinks from streams and strikes matches on his weather-chiselled jaw. I’ll probably meet him at the events do. I’ll ask him.
And all these well-known mountain names were un-famous once. Almost as un-famous as me. So maybe there’s hope for me yet.
But the thing is, it’s not just about me. It’s about mountain rescue. And the girls and boys who go out there in who knows what at the ping of an SMS, to help their fellow humans – usually just as dinner is about to be served, or – in the wee small hours – soon after the ‘other half’ has just got off to sleep. Whereas I just tap away at a keyboard all day in my jim jams and bed socks (or so it’s been said).
Winning this wouldn’t just be huge for me and my writing, it would also be a great PR opportunity for the Ogwen team (who have a BIG pile of books to sell), and for mountain rescue in general. To this end, I have blatantly canvassed both mine and mountain rescue’s entire network both on and offline, for which I make no apology. How many times in life do opportunities like this come along? (Unless you’re Chris Townsend, of course. In which case, I imagine, they are frequent). I am squeezing this one till the pips squeak. And I DO have a Royal endorsement, after all. Surely that counts for something?
But – coming back to that earlier question from our favourite ski bod – what I’ve discovered through all of this is not just how many people read this blog (hello! <waves at screen>), but how many have also read the book. Imagine! Actually gone out, bought a copy and read it, without me twisting their arm or forcing it upon them, come 25 December, all wrapped up in Christmas paper and jolly red ribbon. (My brother can vouch for this. He has several of my creative efforts lining his shelves or hanging on walls). I especially loved the comment from one old advertising colleague who said he ‘voted because it’s a jolly good read, far better than the rest’. Thank you, John!
I am constantly amazed at who my words have touched. The way people comment, on meeting me about town or chatting over the phone, about something I’ve written, as though it’s a conversation we’ve just been having. Prompting all sorts of extra snippets from them, which I then want to instantly blog about, continuing the conversation. Most don’t subscribe or follow officially, but I still know they’re there. I’m talking to friends, some – perhaps most – of whom I haven’t yet met.
So, thank you again to all my friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends, friends to the power of infinity. To so many people who have responded so positively to me and the book, and voted too. Thanks also, to the Ogwen team, who put a huge amount of faith in me, to research, collate and write their story, then design the book! And to George Manley, who did the wonderful illustrations.
And, if you haven’t yet done so and fancy giving us (me and the book) a leg up that final big step to the summit, voting for the awards is done via the TGO website – just scroll your way through to the second page and down to ‘Book of the Year’. The window for this closes 10 November. It’s Risking Life and Limb. And it just might be a winner.