OWPG Award for Excellence for my TGO magazine feature ‘Summits and Skylarks’

This weekend, my wife Hannah and I headed to the Norfolk Broads for the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild AGM and awards dinner.

Updated 2019-10-11 with corrected information on David Lintern’s award.

This is my first year as a member of the OWPG. I joined due to recommendations from several existing members, and since joining I’ve really appreciated being a member of a group with such a vast amount of collective experience in outdoor books and magazines. I’ve found the OWPG forums especially helpful. The Guild isn’t a trade union, but when faced with tricky work situations we have come together to present a unified front, seeing off or blunting threats to our profession. When the email went round announcing that this year’s AGM weekend would be in Norfolk, I leapt at the chance to come along. In addition to attending the awards dinner, I was also looking forward to meeting quite a few people I’ve worked with or corresponded with – in some cases authors whose books I’d been reading for many years.

At the awards dinner, after drinks and nibbles courtesy of Cicerone, I was glad to see Chris Townsend recognised in the Outdoor Book category for his excellent book Along the Divide. In my own review of Along the Divide, I wrote:

I feel that the writing is more immediate (perhaps more opinionated) than in some of this author’s other books. Along the Divide treads that skilful line between serious, important landscape writing and a damned good tale that you can kick back and read for the pleasure of reading.

David Lintern, another colleague and someone to whom I’m very grateful for giving my own early outdoor writing a leg up, was recognised in the Digital Production section, along with Tim Parkin, for Save Glen Etive, a campaign set up to resist industrial encroachment in the West Highlands. David’s feature ‘One Wild Night’ was also Highly Commended in the Technical Feature section.

To my amazement, I received the Award for Excellence in the Outdoor/Travel Feature section for my own TGO piece, ‘Summits and Skylarks’. This is a very personal piece of writing that was published in the February 2019 issue of the magazine, and deals with the big stuff: cancer, the death of a parent, memory, perception, winter, and how we deal with it all. (Oh, and there are some fine Lakeland fells thrown into the mix too.)

Here’s what the judges said:

Moving, and engaging from the outset. Beautiful description of the mountain, and a keen appreciation of his own psychology and his grief, and this gives the feature much more depth and interest. They liked the opener and the conclusion, acknowledging the metaphors you can draw between your inner life and the mountain but in the end coming back to the simple appreciation of being alive and in the open air. A lovely piece. It was way out in front in the travel category.

Source: OWPG Awards 2019 archive
The opening spread

It took me a long time to even begin writing this piece. My editor at the time, Emily Rodway, commissioned the feature and gave me gentle encouragement – but also warned that if I found the experience too raw then I should feel free to submit something completely different. It took several false starts and a lot of red ink, but I got there in the end.

When Hannah read the finished draft, it made her cry. I don’t think my writing has ever made anyone cry before. I took it as a good sign.

Emily told me that she loved the feature and recommended that I enter it into the OWPG Awards. I did so with no expectations. I was as close to the piece as I could possibly be, and had no objectivity whatsoever. I certainly didn’t expect it to come ahead of writers with years or decades more experience.

But there you have it. Sometimes the important stories, the ones that mean something, are the ones that cannot help but be written, even if they tear your soul a little as they are born. I’m immensely pleased. My only wish is that my dad – the person this piece is all about, really – could be here to see my writing recognised in this way.

Image by Hannah Roddie

I’ll leave you with a short extract from ‘Summits and Skylarks’:

Far below me to the left I could see Thirlmere. I thought about that family holiday a lifetime ago, about that hot day in summer 2003 when Dad pointed Helvellyn out to me and my brother James. We weren’t hillwalkers then, not really, but Dad had dragged us up a few of his old favourites in the Yorkshire Dales, and stared wistfully across at others from places I now realised must have been the cherished viewpoints from another life. Though the mountains don’t change, we project our own changes onto them. My dad had given me so much in his life, and as I stood there gazing down at Thirlmere and letting these thoughts bubble up from their depths, I grasped at the truth of my own grief: this trip was certainly not its conclusion, because grief doesn’t come to an end. It only changes, as we change.

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