One of my excuses for writing contemporary gritty teen fiction is that I convince myself it gives me the licence to revisit the risks of my youth. So in my current cycle of novels set on Hayling Island I have teenagers falling into dangerous seas, riding motorbikes and going rock climbing.
I’m working on the edits to the third book in the cycle, Stuffed, at the moment, which is why my rock climbing days on the gritstone edges of Derbyshire such as Stanage Edge, are very much on my mind. I’ve sent my characters off to Derbyshire on a freezing cold weekend in November. Their leader is nineteen year old Max who has had a lot of experience but none of the others have ever climbed before. That means extreme, scary, risky and ultimately a mega-accident. Great fun!
To write these chapters I had to do some serious research of course. I spent quite a bit of time at the climbing walls in North London, watching beginners and speaking to more experienced climbers.
This is Mark 'Zippy' Pretty setting a new climb on the wall at Swiss Cottage, North West London. He's one of the UK top climbing instructors.
I then took myself off to Derbyshire for a couple of days, taking photos, asking millions of questions about equipment and watching climbers abseil, overcome terror and sometimes, skid back down to the ground again. It was all great fun and I came home with enough notes to write my chapters.
I even wrote a poem.
Severe at Stanage Edge
There are three kinds of sweat;
effort sweat as you jam upwards, hand over hand,
inching the crack, feet skintight in rock shoes.
A curlew calls overhead, you tip,
feel the hallucinatory pull of gravity
the easy fall, effort done,
nothing coming up to meet you
but ground. Then in reverse,
cheek pressed to the grazing rockface,
you breathe, damp all the way to the fingertip
and you’re in prickly sweat;
flowing like a river from armpit to bra,
drenching pants, knees, socks,
until fear sweat breaks out.
This is the worst, when you know the rock rules
and it’s not fear of height or the fall
but of failing at the crux
if you don’t go for it, have it and to hell with gravity.
This is climbing, this is vertical, nothing comes close.
© Miriam Halahmy
What risks do you take when you write?