Reference Number:
GB 3075 FML
Records of the Int Festival of Mountaineering Lit
Six boxes
Creator Name 1:
Gifford | Professor Terry
Biog/Admin History:
David Craig and Professor Terry Gifford planned the first International Festival of Mountaineering Literature in 1987 while on a journey to climb the sea cliffs of Anglesey in North Wales. The original impulse was to celebrate new literary works, and the first festival included readings from their own works: Native Stones by Craig and Gifford's first collection of poetry, The Stone Spiral. Craig and Gifford invited Ed Drummond to attend the first Festival and he proceeded to perform a poetry reading from a small platform atop a 40ft high tripod.

Women's writing about climbing was rare in the late 1980's and the Festival wanted to encourage its growth. Marjorie Mortimer was invited to give what turned out to be an amusing, mocking talk about what she called 'The Mine Is Bigger Than Yours' display in men's climbing writing. Other speakers have included Janet Adam Smith and Jill Lawrence. The latter providing a feminist analysis of the climate of magazine publishing for women climbers. Another combination was the late Alison Hargreaves and Alison Osius, Senior Editor at Climbing. Whilst visiting from the USA to talk about writing profiles of mountaineers, Osius was actually writing what was to be the last profile of Alison Hargreaves, a tribute the Festival was honoured to have made possible.

At the first event Mike Mortimer gave a quiz to test knowledge of climbing literature. This was published, with the answers, in the book of the Festival papers from the first five years, Orogenic Zones, published by Bretton Hall College. The fourth Festival (1990) featured a play devised by local school students using a specially erected climbing wall. For one Festival Rosie Smith and Celia Bull revived some of Tom Patey's songs and for another they wrote their own. Among the more bizarre was a song that arose out of a pub conversation with young hotshot Johnny Dawes who had just sat his final exams at university and was enthusing about what a buzz they had been. So, when people ordered their tickets for the sixth Festival (1992) they were invited to set an exam question for Dawes. At the opening of the Festival he was given an exam paper of 14 questions compiled by the audience and sent away to write an answer to one of them for a reading three hours later. He chose the question 'My first time' and duly returned to carry off the reading of his paper with characteristic imagination, wit and flare. This was published in the second book of Festival papers. On two occasions humorist Steve Ashton gave theatrical performances that took the audience by surprise. At the tenth festival (1996) he was a climber in a mental hospital in conversation with his therapist. This was both very funny and extremely moving at the same time.

The fourth element of the first Festival, which came to be a cornerstone of planning future festivals was controversy and debate. Dave Cook's lecture at the first Festival threw out a challenge to mountaineering writers to be more inclusive (of women, young activists, climbers from minority ethnic groups, foreign literatures), more connected to climbers' wider lives (as workers, lovers, and political, even musical creatures) and more expressively experimental in form.
New poetry was regularly commissioned, for example, from Guy Kirkus the brother of Colin Kirkus, and from the Festival's popular discovery, the young feminist climbing poet Kym Martindale. New work was also commissioned from younger climbers; 14 year-old Chris Briggs read his poem 'Doomsville' at the fifth Festival. At the tenth Festival, Paul Pritchard greatly impressed the audience with his writing about the Llanberis rock-climbing scene - Deep Play, which went on to win the Boardman Tasker Award the following year (1997).

The international dimension has included Waclaw Sonelski's lecture on 'Climbing in Poland Under Communism', as well as a series of authoritative papers on the mountaineering literature of France from Anne Sauvy, and of Italy from Mirella Tenderini. Mikel Vause from the USA has shared his Ph.D. research into mountaineering literature Of Men and Mountains.

Climbers of international prominence have talked about their writings too e.g. Sir Chris Bonington, Doug Scott, Stephen Venables, Kurt Diemberger, Paul Piana, Doug Robinson and Pat and Biaba Morrow. The Festival has also included older generation writers such as Tom Weir from Scotland and Charlie Houston and Bob Bates from the USA, Irish storyteller Dermot Somers and retired Hodder and Stoughton editor Maggie Body. A number of people have been stalwart supporters of the Festival throughout the years such as the late Paul Nunn, Jim Curran and Ian Smith. Each Festival also includes an exhibition of original mountain paintings.

The Festival aims to assist with the development of similar mountain literature festivals in other countries, as it has done at Banff, Canada and at Passy, France. Associated activities include climbing women writers running weekend writing workshops prior to the Festival and recruiting candidates for the Paul Nunn Scholarship which funds a PhD student researching mountaineering literature.
In November 2007 the Festival relocated to Kendal, Cumbria and takes place during the Kendal Mountain Festivals programme.
Acquisition Source:
Donated by Prof. Terry Gifford
Accession Number:
2006/1, 2007/5, 2009/7
Scope and Content:
Working papers, audio visual and published material.
Duplicated material weeded out and destroyed.
4 series of files: General files; Festivals; Audio Visual material and Secretary's files. Order of date of creation of file.
Access Conditions:
This collection is open for consultation. Readers are advised to contact the Mountain Heritage Trust in advance of their visit in order to make an appointment.
Finding Aids:
Description compiled by Elaine Brison, Volunteer
Access Points:
Rock climbing
2007-01-31 00:00:00
M Willett