Monday, 10 March 2014

Setting the Scene with Matt Dickinson

I am pleased to welcome Matt Dickinson on the blog, to tell us why he chose the highest mountain in the world as a backdrop for his new novel.
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When you think about the potential drama contained within the mountain world it is surprising how few teen/YA authors choose it as a backdrop for their stories. Even the most extreme dystopian future scape would struggle to deliver quite as much raw horror as can be found for real in the high places of the Himalayas and beyond. 
Killer storms?  We gottem! Temperatures so low they freeze exposed flesh in seconds? That’s a tick! Thousand ton ice towers waiting to fall at the blink of an eye? Available round every corner. 
No wonder climbers call these lofty places ‘The Death Zone’. 
This is the world I have chosen to explore with my new teen/YA title ‘The Everest Files’, partly because my own experiences as a climber have given me a wealth of true details to draw upon, but also because I find it an inspiring place to visit in my mind. 
For along with the dangers of the mountain world there is also extreme beauty. Star shine reflected in wind polished ice as you leave a tent for a night climb. A majestic Griffon Vulture playing in the thermals along a remote rocky ridge. The impossibly intense aquamarine blue of thousand year old ice in the bottom of a crevasse. Such are the rewards for those who are prepared to take the risks. 
So it seems to me that this is a rich and powerful world in which to set a story; each new climbing phase on the mountain takes the writer into new opportunities for description and scene setting.  Crevasse fields. Sheer walls of ice. Rocky sections where stone fall is an ever present threat. The textures and colours you get when you are close to a big mountain are far more varied than a distant glance would reveal, and all of that detail helps the setting of a novel become visceral and authentic. 
Then there is the pressure. The rising tension as a team climbs ever higher on a peak like Everest is an absolute gift to any writer with a story in mind. Why? Because it strips all the pretence out of people and kind of forces them to be who they really are. Up there at 8000 metres there is no time for the luxury of masks and false personas. 
If you go to Everest with someone you are going to find out who they actually ARE. Not what their press release would have you believe. And that was great for me because I wanted to write about the lies and betrayal that have become a part of the Everest obsession…and explore some very flawed characters! 
Finally, Everest is a great setting for another important reason;  the Sherpa people who work there. These are the true heroes of Everest,  risking their lives to carry food and oxygen and camping equipment up high for the expeditions. Ever since my first visit to the Himalayas at the age of seventeen I have been fascinated by these cheerful, spiritual,  courageous people, and I have long wanted to write a story about a young Sherpa on his first Everest expedition.
Will ‘The Everest Files’ be my last book set on the world’s highest mountain? I doubt it!
For me as a writer it really is the ultimate backdrop.   
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Matt Dickinson is a climber and writer with a passion for pushing the limits. He has filmed on the summit of Mt Everest and directed films for National Geographic TV and Discovery Channel in many wild corners of the world. His teen series ‘Mortal Chaos’ was warmly received by critics and readers alike and his new teen series ‘The Everest Files’ is published by Vertebrate on the 10th March.


To find out more about Matt Dickinson:

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