Jacqui Norman, who never makes a mistake (or so she tells me) sent out a Picture Call this morning for some exciting mountaineering shots for the front cover of a Japanese novel titled “Hidako”.

Of course my knowledge of Japanese peaks is second to none, and the Hidaka range is well known to me (and Mr. Wikipedia). The highest peak is Mount Poroshiri at 6,785 feet. It’s not HidakO, it’s HidakA. But Jacqui says that if that’s what the client ordered, that’s what the client wants.

She said he wanted images to capture the thrills, excitement and danger of mountaineering anywhere, not just on some overblown Japanese hill. Like Joe Simpson’s “Into The Void”.

Ah. Wrong again, Jacqui. Joe Simpson’s “Touching The Void”, not “Into The Void” is one of the classics of mountaineering, as fotoLibra “8,000 Uploads!” member Nick Jenkins quickly pointed out.

And as I remember only too well, even without the aid of Mr. Wikipedia. I have never read the book, because I am consumed with jealousy.

Let me take you back to 1985. I had just delivered the manuscript of Wim Meulenkamp’s and my first book on follies to the gilded offices of Jonathan Cape in London’s Bedford Square (even the electric sockets were golden, there’s posh, yes?). Unfortunately my editor Liz Calder, who had commissioned the book, had left to co-found a new publisher called Bloomsbury, so our book was passed down to another editor, Tony Colwell.

Tony could spare me half an hour to talk about publicity. I was ushered into his office. He greeted me abstractedly. “This is a really wonderful book,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Oh!” I stammered. “Thank you so much!”

“No, no, I’m sorry, I was thinking about this mountaineering book,” he said. “It’s called “Touching The Void”, and it’s by this amazing man called Joe Simpson.”

And for the next 25 minutes Tony praised this incredible book, lauding it with superlative after superlative. He went on and on. I just sat there.

Eventually he glanced at his watch. “Goodness, is that the time? I suppose we’d better talk about your book. Well, we’ll be sending out the usual review copies. Is there anything else? Well, goodbye, so good of you to come in.”

And that was that.

Ever since then, any mention of Joe Simpson’s “Touching The Void” sets my teeth on edge.

I shouldn’t really complain, because Jonathan Cape ended up doing a really spectacular publicity job on “Follies”, and it sold out in 11 months.

And if you want to see a REALLY plush publisher’s office, you should visit Bloomsbury, the company that Liz Calder co-founded. Spread over three town houses in the same Bedford Square, they might as well have gilded the entire interior, such is its opulence. I guess Harry Potter contributed a penny or two.

Oh — and congratulations are due to Nick Jenkins. 8,000 images is one impressive portfolio! Other members could learn a lot from him — and they can, because Nick runs some great photography courses at Freespirit Images.


Add your comment


9 Responses to “The Folly of Touching The Void”

  1. Nick Jenkins says:

    No comment – just an abject apology for picking up Jacqui’s (very minor) hiccough and and big thank you Gwyn for my honourable mention!

  2. Yes, we are really here. I know you(all) don’t get the response you would like, but your site is good. You offer much I would like to pursue if time permitted. Someday I’ll get back to you about some specific photo shots to hang in my house. Shame life is so short.

  3. Shaunagh says:


    You’re hot, and funny, and you write well.
    And you’re married. That’s lucky cos so am I.

  4. Mike Mumford says:

    The nearest I ever got to touching the “Void” was the abseiling into underground slate cavern’s at Arthog in North Wales. To me the worst void was a cold wet pitch-black decent, hanging on to the smallest wire ladder not knowing how deep it was. Normally I like to avoid such places. This was in the days when we taught apprentices leadership, responsibility and caring for our fellow man or woman. The black hole or folly is now showing us how society loses way to the Black Hole in the countries pocket. Where those with pots of Folly wasting their wealth on so called Art Investments, thus tying up true investment in human life, or avoidance to the real void given to the unemployed.

  5. Mark Goodwin says:

    I know age is catching up to me now – had my 70th in December – when I first read the sentence ‘Let me take you back….’ I read ‘I had just delivered the manuscript of ‘Mine Kamp’! OK so dyslexia runs in the family!

    8000 images from Nick Jenkins must warrant some sort of prize. I was very pleased to be able to visit a ‘talk’ by Nick in Chepstow on his latest book. It was very entertaining, and he really is a very nice chap.
    Congratulations Nick.

    Retards (no I am not going to correct it)


  6. John Hasson says:

    Well here’s a funny thing. One of my best friends way back when was Simon Calder, son of said Liz and her husband author Nigel. And two of my best girlfriends were her twin daughters!

  7. John hasson says:

    Oops. Wrong liz Calder entirely. Sorry.