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The awkwardness of book ideas in August

By Ronald Turnbull
4 minute read

Ronald Turnbull on the particular difficulties you can encounter when pitching a book idea to Cicerone in August - normally peak holiday season.

Those born under the star sign of Virgo (end of August and early September) have a long trek to travel and rocks and obstacles to overcome. It's all down to the swiftfoot planet Mercury, apparently, and it applies, in particular, to guidebooks offered to Cicerone Press.

Late August is a particularly likely time for book ideas. This is because late August, being midge season in Scotland, is when you're likely to be travelling hut to hut through the Alps. One tends to be in Austria, with the snow melted off the high passes, the summer thunderstorms mostly passed away, and Allan Hartley's guidebook, Trekking in the Stubai Alps, snuggled in the pocket of the rucksack.

Allan Hartley guidebook
Allan Hartley's guidebook, Trekking in the Stubai Alps

Hut to hut walking in Austria starts at 7.30am, which is when they stop serving breakfast. And it goes on for about 6 or 8 hours. That's 6 or 8 hours of narrow paths dangling above deep green-grey valleys, or zigzagging up between crags to a high pass with 20 or 30 snowy mountains appearing ahead, or hesitating at the pass itself because the drop beyond is sunken in shadow and apparently vertical, with a steel cable slithering over the edge like a suicidal snake, and one or two metal staples to stand on above 300m of emptiness and a valley full of jaggy boulders where a glacier used to be.

Neue Regensberg hut
Neue Regensberg hut

All of which gets you to the next of the huts just after lunch. Various essential tasks must now be completed. Check in and assert rights over 2m2 of the mattress space up in the oakwood-scented attic. Transfer damp socks from feet to the very effective drying room. But before all that: consume the apple strudel.

Why do they keep asking if we want it 'mit schlagsahne'? Of course we want it with whipped cream.

Apfelstrudel
Apfelstrudel

But all of this (no, don't spoil your upcoming supper with a second apple strudel) still leaves a leisurely half-afternoon. The hut's English-language library comprises a battered copy of Volume 3 of Game of Thrones – and Arya Stark's still trekking northwards through Westeros, which is considerably less interesting country than the Austrian Alps. So, it's natural to just be sunbathing on the terrace, looking out across another of the grey-green valley holes to some more of the glaciers and rocky ridges, and musing about what book one might like to be writing over summer 2020. Thinking about, in particular, the green and dreamy hills of home, and the furthest north bits of Sutherland and Cromarty and Wester Ross...

Then it's a matter of putting the boots back on for the short hike past the mountain pool to the rocky hump with the phone signal. Down the book plan goes to 3-Austria's mast, off round to BT internet's constantly surging servers somewhere in the American desert, down to Cicerone's computers at the southern edge of Kendal.

There follows an email-free interlude involving a stony mountain tarn, a near-vertical grassy slope with some more metal cables and rock-staple steps, and an airy scrambly ridgeline a bit like Scotland, if Scotland was stretched in the up-and-down direction to make everything twice as steep and twice as high, and also if Scotland was sprinkled with glaciers. And at the following hut, after the apple strudel, the reply comes back. Which is where the particular difficulty of this particular publisher comes in. The email reply is an out-of-office bounce.

Postie Path
Postie Path

Cicerone's business development director, who's called Joe, isn't there. It's late August, and the midges are out in Scotland, while the snows have conveniently melted off the high passes in California's Sierra Nevada. And Cicerone's Joe is somewhere between Yosemite valley and Mount Whitney, checking out Alan Castle's book about the John Muir Trail...

On the John Muir Trail
On the John Muir Trail

So I try Jonathan, who's the managing director, and Joe's dad. (Cicerone, in its one-room open-plan office in Kendal, not only feels like a family: to a certain extent it is one.) 3-Austria phone mast, BT servers in the American desert, windowless temperature-controlled room alongside the open-plan office in Kendal. And onwards this time, via Vodaphone France, to the pretty little Refuge Bellachat above Chamonix. It's August, midges, snow-free passes, Jonathan is busy checking over the backwards bit of Kev Reynolds' book on the Tour of Mont Blanc.

Another Cicerone workstation
Another Cicerone workstation

We'll think about it in September, shall we, when we all get home?

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Virgo horoscope for September 2019 (As predicted by www.horozo.com)

The month begins with a great start as Mercury, Venus, and Mars are still in your sign. Impress your love interest (they mean publisher) with your eager intelligence and attention to detail. They’ll be touched that you noticed and reward you in the bedroom (by 'bedroom' they mean the business bank account). Being a perfectionist has its perks!

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Check out Trekking in the Stubai Alps on YouTube

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