Saturday, 11 September 2010

Research Rocks! Miriam Halahmy

The first club I joined at college many moons ago was the Rock Climbing club. I'd always been the adventurous type, climbing trees, riding bikes, rock scrambling.But now in my fifties I have to take things a bit too easy for my liking, ( arthritis and a couple of hip replacements haven't helped) and so I take every opportunity to relive my days of risk taking through my writing. In my Hayling Cycle of three novels I have my teenagers riding motorbikes, entering dangerous seas and racing around on motorboats. I am currently writing the third novel in the series, STUFFED and I decided to send my teenagers rock climbing.

There's plenty of climbing all over London, providing you don't mind climbing indoors on synthetic rock. Personally I always preferred outdoor climbing on the grit stone edges of Derbyshire or in North Wales. But I had to start my research somewhere, so I interviewed Mark 'Zippy' Pretty, one of the top UK climbing coaches today. Here he is route-setting on the climbing wall at the Swiss Cottage Sports Centre.

Mark  helped me to develop my scenario involving my teenagers climbing on The Roaches in Derbyshire, in November. An accident happens and they have to do a rescue - just as it begins to snow! "White out," grinned Zippy. Well that fits the plotting technique of things getting worse and then even worse.

 I was quite overwhelmed by the amount of equipment used today. When we climbed in the 70s we just tied a rope round out waists and went up. Today they wouldn't even dream of leaving the ground without a professional harness, a rack full of nuts, quickdraws, etc., and a helmet. Quite right too. We were completely nuts.

Mark explained about the importance of setting an anchor for the rope, which in climberspeak is 'Bombproof.' I don't think we always understood that in my students days particularly as I was dropped once almost fifteen feet onto my back because the anchorman hadn't heard of Bombproof.

But I wanted to revisit my old rock climbing grounds in Derbyshire, so I took myself off to the Roaches and came across this school party on a day out. Mark had told me that a lot of kids climb today, on the indoor walls especially. Its become part of the curriculum in many schools and so he thought there would be a lot of interest in my book. That was very cheering as I wasn't sure how wide an appeal my enthusiasm would have.

I hooked up with Richard Hogan and his trainee instructor Stephanie and got a really good idea of all the equipment, as well as a good reminder of what is involved in climbing. Climbing is a problem solving sport, thinking about your next move, weighing up the possibilities and the difficulties. But there is also the risk taking. You just have to go for it, not think too much about it or you'd never make the next move. Look at your feet, keep three points of contact at all times, build your muscles and develop your flexibility. Going up vertically on rock walls with the tiniest of holds for feet and hands is one of the most exciting and demanding sports - other than base jumping I suppose. ( No, not on my list.)

The climbers all recommended I read Touching the Void by Joe Simpson. I'd already seen the film. Its an amazing climbing story and an incredible act of survival. Simpson says, "You've got to keep making decisions, even if they're the wrong decisions, or you're stuffed."
My epigraph I think. I'll have to write and ask his permission.

I have a notebook filled with thoughts, descriptions, ideas and an album full of photos, I've watched Cliffhanger and Touching the Void again and I've been back to the famous Roaches of Derbyshire. My climbing friends have said they'll read and comment on my chapters. A good summer's work I reckon.
How do you do your research?

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Katherine Roberts said...

Thoroughly recommend "Touching the Void" - the film really got to me!

I've never actually climbed myself, though I sometimes ski where I shouldn't so can relate to doing crazy things in dangerous places. Glad you're re-living the thrill through writing.

Sarah said...

The Roaches are just down the road from me, and good for walking too. If you find yourself there again, there is another place to visit, in their vicinity, this time with an ancient literary connection: Lud's Church (not a church but a rock formation), the Green Chapel of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Anonymous said...

I'm a Derbyshire girl! What a wonderful post, so full of energy and life. I'd love to see you climbing or riding a bike! How fabulous to talk to people about their rock climbing experiences. Such a good idea. My research tends to be book based or web based. Perhaps I should chat to people more...

Savita Kalhan said...

Great post! I've never been climbing so I will experience it through your book! Looks like I'll also have to find a copy of Touching the Void too!

catdownunder said...

Ow! My knees bent backwards just reading this - your book is bound to be good!
I am real wimp about heights - even on all four paws.

Miriam Halahmy said...

Good to hear from the Derbyshire people - it is one of my fave places - and I'll have to check out Lud's church next time. let's hope my book gives everyone the thrill without having to take the spill!

Jan Markley said...

You should come to the Canadian Rocky Mountains where you can climb the real thing!

Miriam Halahmy said...

Sounds very tempting Jan, I'll let you know!