Rye Bookshop hosted a talk and book launch last Thursday February 16. C J (Jonty) Driver (himself a poet and novelist) introduced Dan Richards to talk about his book, Climbing Days, which is part-biography, part-autobiography and part deep and loving reflection on family – what it is, what it means and how it works across and through generations – as well as mountain climbing.
Ostensibly it is a book about the author’s great uncle and great aunt – the literary critic, author and academic Ivor Richards and his wife Dorothy, known to all her family as Dorothea. Their passion was climbing and they were at the forefront of the pursuit from the early 1920s, pioneering routes up British mountains and the Alps. Dorothy was, if anything, the greater and more talented climber of the pair at a time when women’s involvement in the sport often met with great and wide disparagement.
Dan uses a variety of source material including letters, his great aunt’s own book Climbing Days, the memories of his father Tim and those of other relatives, and his own recollections, as a small boy, of Dorothy. Using this knowledge the author sets out to learn to climb and then follow the exact routes up mountains that his great aunt and great uncle had pioneered.
Writing the book brings Dan closer to his father, who climbs with him, as well as the ostensible main subjects. Indeed, when climbing in amateurish fashion in Switzerland, Dan and Tim have an encounter with a local who, on finding out their names, immediately invites mountain guides to come and join them for a meal. Dan discovers that his departed relatives still live on in the Alps, revered for their pure and pioneering approach to mountaineering, and as a result Dan and his father become minor celebrities in their own right.
Beautifully written, this book is hard to pigeon hole, but it is a paean to love, life and the human spirit. This is Dan Richards’ third book and he also spoke about it to the Winchelsea Literary Society the next evening, Thursday February 17.
photo: Kenneth Bird