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My book has been getting amazing reviews and is already a best seller it would be fantastic if I could win The Great Out Doors magazine book of the year especially as I’m up against some of the big guns in the publishing world.

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Here I am with Indie author Fiona MacBain

If you get the book please return the favour and vote for the book in the TGO magazine book awards, Vote for me in the Great Outdoors reader’s awards

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TGO latest issue

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The Last Hillwalker is also available in paperback
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Torch Warning

Around a year ago I posted this post about my new head torch.  The light’s fantastic My new head torch seemed incredible bright and good value for money so I thought I’d share it with you.

I’ve now discovered there are some issues with these torches you should know about.  I recently tried to charge the torch from the12v power source in my car, the one that used to power the cigarette lighter when people used to smoke.  It’s the first time I’d tried to do that as usually charge the torch from mains power in my house.  After charging the torch for just under an hour I found it to be completely dead and I suspect that the circuits have been burnt so the torch is destined for the bin.  a friend of mine had exactly the same experience, so I don’t think the problem is isolated to that torch.

A bit of research on the net revealed that, in some cases, the batteries on these torches can explode whilst they are being charged.  One feature I read said that the problem is relate to folk overcharging the batteries, especially if you leave them on overnight.  This source maintained that, even if completely discharged, that batteries should require a maximum of six hours charge.

I think that it’s likely that these batteries can over heat and, rather than exploding like a bomb, there is a risk that they might smoulder and give off toxic fumes.  Obviously this is serious if you are in a confined space.

Other sources were very enthusiastic about these torches saying they work well and not relating any problems.  It perhaps comes down to that old idiom, ‘If it looks too good to be true it probably is.’

These torches are very cheap for the amount of light they produce but they are perhaps not manufactured to as high safety standards as much more expensive torches.  You get what you pay for.  If you buy one just don’t charge it in the 12 volt socket of you vehicle and never leave it on charge overnight unattended.  I suspect you could have many years of happy use provided you are careful with them.

I’d be interested to hear of anyone who has used similar torches. Did you have problems?

For this and other hiking tips buy The Last Hillwalker only £1.99 to download until 10th November 2017.

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Fishing with my father

The world is full of giants. They lumber about me and I, at four years, scamper between their legs waiting for the occasional face to peer down at me or a hand to appear bearing a Quality Street chocolate. The green triangular ones are the best and these treasures I unwrap with reverence before savouring their delicious velveteen centres. Beside the little tin fishing hut, I visit with my father every Sunday, grows a tiny cherry tree, little more than a sapling. Small as I am, if I press my thumbs together I can place my palms against the silvery bark and just touch my fingertips together on the far side of the tree. Sometimes I stand like this for a few minutes, listening to the leaves rustling in the wind and feeling the tree sway, fascinated by the enormity of the fact that I am big enough to hold a tree in my hands.

The land of my Merseyside home is rich in clay. In Victorian times men would arrive in the fields with horses pulling carts and begin to dig. Their goal was the clay beneath the soil which they would cart away to make bricks for terraced houses of the growing armies of industrial workers who work in the shipyards of Birkenhead. These clay pits were soon abandoned and in time they filled with water, trees grew around them, and they were populated by fish, water voles and aquatic plants. My father is a member of a small club, The Wirral Angling Association, and spends most of his free time away from his job as a shipping clerk, fishing at the ponds.

As a small boy I roam around the ponds, exploring the trees and bushes, walking across the precarious wooden bridges that lead out on to islands or small pontoons. Here I battle space monsters, have shoot outs with many foes and follow the vivid footsteps of my imagination. Gradually my father introduces me to his world, shows me the Whirligig Beetles and Water boatmen, tiny insects who spend their lives rushing across the meniscus of the water, miraculously balanced on the surface tension. The Whirligig beetles race in circles across the water pursued by the Water boat men who look like tiny oarsmen in miniature boats.

My father shows me the criss-crossed tracks left by water voles, mice and other creatures. These little pathways fascinate me and I spend hours following them and wondering what animal made them. Merseyside is a crowded place, crammed with people, industry and intensive agriculture. The Mersey river is so polluted it is toxic to life and even capable of bursting into flame. Around these few ponds however, in a small, sometimes almost microscopic world, my father and I cling to these tiny outposts of nature surrounded by a man-made jungle.

Beneath the water there lies a secret world full of myriad lives. Some days, when there is enough sunshine, I will climb a tree and look down into the water from above. On days like these I watch as underwater shapes rise from the depths. I see bulbous carp basking below the surface and feeding beneath the lily pads. Shoals of silvery roach flit nervously between the shelter of weed beds in cloud like formations. Sometimes my pulse quickens when I see, the long, streamlined shape of a Pike sitting motionless amongst the weeds waiting for a careless Roach to swim too close. When a fish comes within range, the Pike, the stripped tiger of these small waters, explodes with lightening like speed to hurtle through the water and close its many toothed jaws about its hapless prey.

My father’s only transport is an old sturdy bicycle, he is unable to afford motorised transport on a clerk’s wage. As a child I climb into a small seat on the back and, with me on board, he cycles the three miles to the waters of the angling club. As I get bigger he teaches me the art of angling. We spend hours watching the quills of the floats he has made from birds feathers sit motionless in the water. The only fish of any size are Tench, slimy green bottom feeders, but even these are rarely caught.
When it rains or becomes too cold we retreat to the shelter of a few small wooden huts which keep away the winter winds. The huts are full of fishing rods and nets. Dusty and dank they smell of damp and the paraffin that leaks from the small stoves that my father lights to offer some warmth. In the dim light of the huts, when the weather is foul, we sit together, my father and I and few old men who have been fishing here for over twenty years. As the heat from the stoves rises from beneath the table the old men sit, drinking tea and swapping stories of the great fish that they believe lurk somewhere beneath the murky waters of the ponds. The roof of the tin hut reverberates to falling acorns and the rattle of twigs.

In the summer we rise early and walk across the meadows laced by a million spider’s webs sparkling in the early morning dew. The hours just after dawn are magical times, caught in the moment before the world wakes when it is easy to believe that we are alone. After hours fishing, we return to the hut and feast on sausages and the mushrooms we pick along the way. Anyone who has eaten in the outdoors will know that there is no taste richer than a meal eaten in the fresh air and spiced by hunger.


In the winter, when the icy wind blows, we would build fires in old oil drums to warm out hands whilst we fished for the elusive pike. Short winter days and cold winds gave these days I spice I grew to relish. Once I a while, even on mild Merseyside, temperatures would sink low enough and long enough for the small ponds to freeze over. Even then, with all pretence at fishing gone, we would spend our weekends walking round the ponds and marvel at the ice crystals and the changed white landscape.

My father died last year at the age of 90, only months after catching his last fish in those ponds. That gentle man had spent over 70 years beside those waters. They had been his companion, his source of peace, a place away from the pressures of life. He had a connection with those few acres of land that is rare in the modern world and something precious

It has taken me many years to realise that the sense of belonging I feel when sitting in a Highland bothy comes from those days, many years ago, when I sat in that fishing hut listening to the acorns bouncing off the roof. Even today, as I walk into bothies, that habits he planted in me persist and I find myself scouring the ground searching for the tracks of animals. In nights beside the bothy fire part of me is still a boy surrounded by giants.
If you go to those ponds now, you will see that the cherry tree still grows beside the hut. It is mature now and even my adult hands can reach only halfway around its trunk. It is more than fifty years since I first held that tree in in the palms of my hands. In all those years a half a lifetime has passed by. Perhaps that cherry tree will live another fifty years, in a time when no one will remember the small boy who placed his hands around its trunk.

Eight tips for self-publishing your book

I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned about self-publishing

Why do you want to publish?

This might seem an odd question but knowing why you want to publish is really important. ‘Hey, I made a book!’ might be all you want to say to family and friends. Maybe you want to get famous or perhaps you have a burning ambition to get what you want to say out into print. Perhaps you want to get rich. Making money is the worst motivation for self-publishing, if you want to earn some money, go work in a supermarket, you’ll make a lot more money in the long run. Well that’s almost true.

Don’t do it on your own.
People imagine authors sitting at a word processor in the early hours of the morning, typing themselves into a frenzy. It can be like that, but the chances are if you work entirely on your own what you produce will be pretty poor. Get friends and other writers to read what you’ve written. Talk to them about how the book could be made better. There are forums out there on the internet where you can ask people to read samples of your work although you have to be fairly careful about the advice you get, not all of it is good.

Criticism is your friend, it tells you how to get better. Good criticism tells you what is right and wrong with what you have created and if there are problems how to fix them. Bad critics can only tell you what they think is wrong, never how to fix it.

Get an editor

If you want to produce a professional piece of writing the it needs a professional edit which you will have to pay for. No, your aunty Marjory who is good with English can’t do it. This is one piece of work you can’t do yourself and a good editor will raise your game as a writer. It’s likely to cost between £500 and £1000, depending on the length of your book. If you want something that will stand alongside the work of published authors then it needs a professional to edit it. Nothing says self-published like bad English or lots of typos. When I wrote my book there came a point when I just couldn’t ‘see’ the work anymore. I’d lost all objectivity and only another pair of eyes could help.

Here’s my editor

Alex Roddie

http://www.alexroddie.com/pinnacle-editorial

Blog, Blog, Blog
‘You need a blog,’ I was told when I first started talking about publishing my book, that’s been one of the best pieces of advice I’ve had over the years. Since you won’t have a multi-million-dollar marketing budget you need a way of reaching people out there who might have an interest in your work. A blog is by far the best way of doing this. Which is why you are reading this right now. Another major advantage of a blog is that you can write as much as you like and what you like when you like. You are free to experiment and you’ll find out what works and what doesn’t. It’s amazing how your writing changes over time.
‘Writing is a journey not a destination.’

I’m shortlisted for The Great Outdoors Magazine Book of the year.

Please help me win by voting here TGO Book of the Year

Self-Publishing isn’t second best
The digital age has changed everything and, in the words of Robert Mckee (Story), ‘Nobody knows anything.’
In other words, success can come from anywhere. The film ‘Rocky’ was certain to fail if you spoke to reviewers before the first showing. Then there was ‘Fifty Shades of what…?’
One Indie author told me she thought that the world of traditional publishing was, ‘like a great big castle I can only walk around but can never get into.’ I don’t think that way at all. Yes it’s a castle but the walls of the castle are crumbling and the people inside are watching you from inside. Traditional publishers are more cautious than ever about who they take on and you may get rejected for all kinds of reasons that have to do with the publishers priorities and not the quality of your book. Self-publishing has lots of advantages. You are the master of your own destiny and can decide to do what you like. You’ll probably make more money unless you are a best seller and if you are a publishing house will come knocking any how.

You got to sell, sell, sell

Even if you get a deal with a publisher they’ll expect you do a lot of the marketing.

‘Oh but I hate speaking in public.’ Well you better get over it cos no one else is going to do it for you and if you want anyone to buy your book then you’ll need to stick you neck out and tell people about it. I’ve used podcasts, video blogs, written blogs, public speaking, theatrical productions and, if I could do it, I’d tie a sign on a mule and send it running flat out across the internet. If you self-publish and hope to get some sort of financial return, then you are setting up a business and you’ll have to work at it. The world won’t come to you. I’m outselling a lot of books in the same genre that are produced by publishing houses and have all their resources behind them. I have me. I work hard and it gets results.

Here’s my book on Amazon

Get a graphic designer to create your cover
So you design something, ‘That looks nice doesn’t it?’ Er, no actually is doesn’t, it looks awful. You show it your family. They all say it looks fine. They are lying and don’t want to hurt your feelings. The first thing a potential reader sees is not anything you’ve written it’s the cover. I used Mark Thomas to design my cover. I think he did a great job and it really stands out on book shelves. You can find Freelance editors and designers here https://reedsy.com/

Mark Thomas

 

Here’s my designer, Mark Thomas.http://www.coverness.com/

There is one final thing you need to know…

It’s worth it!
Okay so I wrote my book because I had a story to tell and I thought I could do it as well as anyone else. I was wrong, I couldn’t, lots of people were way better than me. I re-wrote the book four times over and learnt more than I thought there was to know about writing. I wrote until I couldn’t bear to look the thing any more, until I hated it with a passion and never wanted to see it again. Then it got published and a paperback book dropped on to my door mat. I’d made something! All the blood sweat and tears meant something. Then I started to get reviews and people liked it! I’ve performed shows written blogs and they all melt away like summer snow, my book is here to stay. Now people say ‘John Burns? Oh yes he wrote The Last Hillwalker.’
I never expected that. I never thought that, at the end of all that hard work I make something lasting and real. There is something about a book that has tangible qualities of permanence long after you finish writing it. It has a life of its own and touches people in ways you never imagined.

Scarpa Delta GTX Gear Review

Happy feet are essential if you are going to enjoy your walking. A painter paints with his hands a singer has his voice and all a walker has are his two feet. Keeping them happy really counts.

New boots are a major investment for any outdoor goer. If your boots aren’t right you know instantly and the pain they can cause can spoil a whole day or even a whole holiday. You might buy the wrong jacket or maybe a rucksack that isn’t right but they won’t tear the skin off your feet like badly fitting boots.

Boots
Over the years I’ve progressed through all kinds of boots and my feet are now part of mountaineering history. In my early years I was the proud possessor of Galibier Super Pros. These boots were bullet proof and probably constructed in a ship yard. They were rigid boots designed for ice climbing and were so heavy if you couldn’t climb a mountain you could kick it down with them.

Please take a moment to vote for my book, The Last Hillwalker, to be book of the year for The Great Outdoors Magazine Awards


After these plastic shell boots came into fashion. They looked like something the astronauts used for stepping on to the moon. They were much lighter than my old Super pros, were totally waterproof and needed no maintenance. For many years plastic boots were the weapon of choice for the serious climber and on the cliffs of Ben Nevis everyone walked about with the characteristic squeak plastic boots made with every step you took. It was like being followed around by an invisible penguin chick.


A couple of weeks ago I stepped into a puddle with my fabric and leather summer boots and felt that unmistakable coldness of water seeping in. I had sprayed them with every waterproofing product on the market, and still they leaked. I’ve concluded that fabric and leather boots just leak. Gortex or no Gortex you get wet feet and that’s not something I want. So began my quest for new lightweight leather boots.

Scarpa
My travels in the far north take me through miles of bogs so my boots need to be able to resist a soaking. I chose Scarpa Men’s Delta GTX Walking Boots because they looked rugged enough for my purposes and seemed a reasonable price. I think you have to try on a pair of boots before you can decide if they are right for you but, the truth is, it’s always hard to be certain if boots are right for you as it can take six weeks before they mould to your feet and you find they fit like slippers or rip your feet to shreds on every outing.

Here’s the boots at GoOutdoors
I use this trick to get most of my gear and I rarely pay full price. Go outdoors, and I think some other retailers, offer a price match guarantee which works like this. If you can find the same article in another store cheaper than it’s offered by them they’ll give it to you for the same price less 10%. For these Scarpa boots Go Outdoors were asking £189. In a quick look around the internet I found them at WalkOutdoors for £173, although the price has now increased.  I pop round to Go outdoors with my little ipad and they knock 10% off £173 and I pay around £157 saving me £32. Simples, as the meerkat says! The only catch is that it has to be exactly the same item down to colour, size, model etc. Close is not good enough.

insiol
Choosing the right size is always a bit nerve wracking as once you’ve worn boots outside, which is the only way to decide if they really fit, you can’t return them. One trick is to remove the insoles from the boots and place your feet on them as if they were in the boot. This lets you see how much room there is in the boot. With the Scarpas I had to take a size 9 which is larger than my usual size 8.

foot
I use shock absorbing insoles, rather than those supplied with boots, so I took those along with me to the store and fitted them into the boots before I tried them on. The boots do feel slightly large but, as your feet swell when you walk, I think they’ll be okay with thicker socks.
Moment of truth!
I headed out to a bothy in Sutherland, a place noted for the ferocity of its bogs and its trackless wastes that challenge any pair of boots. I was amazed by how waterproof these boots are. Most boots claim to keep out water and then capitulate after a few miles of bog and let it seep in. Indeed this was the reason I abandoned my fabric boots. These boots did exactly what they said on the tin, nothing got through them. I tried proofing them before I went out but it just ran off. If they stay as waterproof as they are right now for the next year, I’ll be delighted.
So far, they are pretty comfortable although, like most leather boots, they need a little breaking in.
All in all I’d give them 5 stars. A rugged buy lightweight boot, ideal for the rough areas of the Highlands hills.

 

the Island Bothy

It’s September in the Highlands and Autumn has slipped, almost un-noticed into the landscape. The season enters quietly, touching the leaves on the trees, with golden tinges. Outside the window of my flat the sycamore trees are spotted yellow and a shiver of excitement runs through me. For mountain folk, everywhere the arrival of Autumn is exciting for soon on this season’s heels the hills will turn white and the great season, winter, will have begun. Our hills will be transformed from sleeping green mounds to ice sheathed warriors, at least that’s what I hope.
Autumn slinks in, stealthy and gentle, but always before she leaves she shakes this island of ours with the ferocity of a wolf attacking a sheep. By October gales will sweep the land and hurl mountainous seas against our shores. I look forward to these extremes, to nights when I can sit in a bothy and hear the windows shake, feel the roof tremble as wind and rain hurl themselves at the defiant little shelter. I endure the summer, I wait for it to leave, wait for the insects to perish and for the flocks of visitors to desert the hills and to leave the tea shops and hotels to return to their quiet bumbling ways. Tourism is the life blood of the Highlands and without the folk who come to walk the hills and enjoy the scenery the place would wither and die. For me, however, a seeker of solitude, I am always pleased when the seasons turn and the summer is over.

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It’s no longer summer but not yet winter. Autumn in the Highlands is always the in between season, characterised by wind and rain and my expeditions are often preceded by carefully studying weather maps, giving up in frustration and deciding to go and see what the weather does. Sometimes I sit in my car watching the rain spattering on to the windscreen, at other times I’m treated to glorious days of sunshine and amazing colours as the seasons change in this northern landscape. Last week, I was passing time when I should have been writing, on Facebook. I read a post from the maintenance organiser of the remoter bothy on Raasay, Taigh Thomoid Dhuibh, asking for information on the condition of the bothy. I realised I’d never been there and decided that I’d make the trip as September was probably a good time, before the October storms and, hopefully, after the summer’s midges. I’m semi-retired these days and have the freedom to make those kind of decisions, I can simply drop everything and go. I have amazing freedom, I am hugely privileged in the ability to simply follow my heart whenever I want to. I haven’t forgotten the hours I spent in meetings during my working days.

Interior

Taigh Thomoid Dhuibh, or Black Norman’s House, sits on the northern most tip of the long finger of the Island of Raasay where it points to the Isle of Rona separated from Raasay by a narrow strip of water known as a ‘Kyle’ in the Highlands. It’s Monday afternoon when I drive from my home in Inverness to the Isle of Skye and make my way to where the little ferry shuttles back and forth between Skye and Raasay, a journey of 25 minutes. Less than 200 folk live on Raasay although the island’s population rises in the summer and a new distillery may bring a few more people to this far flung place. The island is long and narrow and most of its population live in the nearest place that approaches a village and are clustered around the ferry terminus. From a far, if the island is not completely shrouded in mist as it often is for months of the year, the extinct volcano, Dun Caan, dominates the view with its distinctive conical shape and flat top. The view from the summit is said to be exceptional although I can’t testify to this myself. If you are looking for fine views on the Isle of Skye I can recommend Bien na Callich, a small hill that sits above the village of Broadford. It’s a relatively short climb to its summit, where legend says a fairy princess is buried. From the summit, there is a fantastic panorama of Skye which is ample reward for the climb.

in ferry

I head north and, after a few miles, find myself on the famous Callum’s Road. This is not a place to cruise along admiring the scenery, I travel with my eyes glued to the narrow strip of tarmac in front of me as it takes me down alarmingly steep drops and twists around bends that leave me hovering precariously over steep drops to the sea. Calum MacLeod, a resident of North Raasay and the local lighthouse keeper and postman, campaigned for years to get the council to build the road to no avail so, not to be dissuaded, he built the road himself with a pick and a shovel. To be fair he did get a little assistance from some dynamite but the feat took him some ten years, starting in 1964. In the end, the council gave in and adopted the road so it is now a public road, although not one for the faint hearted. The doesn’t go anywhere in particular and certainly not as far as the bothy so, as I laced up my boots, I had some four miles to walk to the tip of Raasay to find the little shelter.

path

There are times when walking to a bothy, I begin to despair, and this walk on Raasay is one of them. I think I should be there by now as my feet sink in to the bog for the thousandth time and my pack, with its supply of coal, grows heavier every step. Highland bothies have a way of toying with the unsuspecting traveller, they hide from him, make him doubt his bearings, wonder if he has walked past the place. I’m heading north and I am beginning to run out of island when, at last, the bothy pops up from behind a hillock jeering at me like and errant schoolboy playing hide and seek. It was here all the time.

New Image

The bothy is a simple, one-room affair with a sleeping platform at one end and a ramshackle hearth at the other. I’m grateful for its shelter as I unpack my sleeping back and prepare a meal which I devour in minutes. The fire lights with little difficulty but, in minutes, smoke belches from the hearth and fills the bothy. Now my eyes smart and I can’t see the far end of the room. Every few minutes I open the door to release the smoke until the chimney heats up enough to draw the smoke out and I can relax before the fire.
As night falls, small pin pricks of light begin to emerge against the dark hills of the Isle of Skye across the Sound of Raasay. The Vikings called Skye, ‘The Winged Isle,’ reflecting its shape of large peninsular jutting into the Atlantic.
I lived on Skye for seven years where I worked as a social worker and my time there was an education. Islands are very different places from anywhere on the mainland of Scotland, they all have their personalities. Orkney is vastly different from the Western Isles, and Skye differs from the others. There is an attitude on the island, a philosophy of life, that the newcomer has to adjust to. My first education in this attitude came when I needed a tradesman to fix our garage door, the local joiner informed me he would be round ‘next Tuesday’ to do the job. Tuesday came but no joiner. I phoned him again, on several occasions, he promised he would come but never did. I realised I had made an elementary mistake, I had assumed that next Tuesday was date, a point in time, it is not, it is a concept. ‘Next Tuesday,’ means that that the joiner may come at some undetermined date in the future, or he may never come at all. ‘Next Tuesday’ means that everything and anything may, and probably will be, put off to some-time in the future when it won’t need to be done at all. If you wait long enough, nothing matters, empires fall, mountains crumble, garage doors rattle on broken hinges until they eventually fall off and blow away.

ferry
On another occasion, the lock on our office door refused to function. I called out the council joiner who, presumably having nothing better to do, showed up. He worked for an hour on the door, then packed up his tools and was about to leave.
I tried the door and the lock didn’t function. ‘This door still doesn’t lock.’
He looked at me with an expression of infinite sadness, as if I were a poor lost soul burdened with irrelevant worries. ‘Ah, yes. Yes, yes, you’re right there. But you see, it’s not as bad as it was before.’
For years, the café in the square of Portree, Skye’s main town, closed at lunch time so the staff could enjoy their meals leaving tourists and locals alike hungry in the rain. It is a life style dictated by the need to bring everything from the mainland, a place where delays are not frustrations but simply opportunities to enjoy life, perhaps a philosophy we could all learn from.

In the morning, I packed up my smoke infused sleeping bag and gear and took some photos so that the Maintenance Organiser of the bothy would be able to plan the next work party. Priority number one for the little remote shelter has to be a better fire place.
I walked out through drizzle and mist and drove back, along Calum’s twisty road, to the Ferry terminal. After an hour, the ferry came into view and disgorged its cars and passengers on to the slipway. I started my car and prepared to board when, to my surprise, the vehicle ramp was raised and the ferry shut down.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked a local, smoking against the terminal wall.
He belched smoke into the breeze. ‘Oh, the ferry isn’t leaving now. Yes, yes, yes. The crew are having their lunch hour.’
Well, of course they are, what’s the hurry.

If you have enjoyed this post you might also like my best selling book, The Last Hillwalker