The Real Fall

events that inspired one aspect of the novel...


I fell. Literally, not metaphorically. Probably, like everyone else, I have also fallen metaphorically – mankind is the product of the Fall, after all; but this was a real fall. It was a blustery day of January, a quarter of a century ago and I had just completed the difficult section of an ice climb on the North-East Face of Ben Nevis, in Scotland. After a struggle with an iced-up chimney, it now looked as though the worst was over. Above there were just steep slopes of snow-ice, rising up to where clouds hid the summit plateau. I teetered on the points of ice axes and crampons, and turned to look down onto the top of my partner’s helmet some seventy feet below. I opened my mouth to call out. “We’ve cracked it, Les!” That’s what I was going to say.

Hubris. As I turned to call to him, the avalanche began. At first it was a mere rivulet of ice crystals hushing down the snow field and sweeping round me. We’d be climbing through this kind of thing all morning and I clung on, waiting for it to pass. But then the whole world went dark, and looking up I saw a great cloud of snow coming down on me. I remember praying. I think I actually prayed to the avalanche itself. Please don’t knock me off, I pleaded. But the avalanche didn’t listen. First it plucked one ice axe out of the ice, and then the other; then it flung me backwards.

Like Lucifer, I fell. I remember the vivid sense of release. All fear was gone. I went back over the ice chimney, down a short snow slope that we had climbed, and finally back over the main ice fall below. And then I stopped. Quite suddenly, I was hanging upside down on the rope, one hundred and fifty feet below my partner. In the space of a few seconds triumph had become disaster. Lucifer had become the Hanging Man.

If a book can be said to have a starting point, then I suppose that incident was the beginning of The Fall. Much was to happen and many years were to pass before writing started. I abandoned climbing (the most direct result of the avalanche), I escaped Britain for the Mediterranean, where powder snow is unknown; I got married. In Italy I began to do seriously what I had always done before in a fragmentary fashion: I began to write. My themes were fate and faith, memory and recall, the past and its often malign influence on the present. I wrote of Italy and Malta and Israel/Palestine. I wrote of the tyranny of genetics and the freedom of the self, and at the back of my mind was always the possibility, probability even, that I would one day write about climbing. So it was that, some time in the first year of the new millennium, I took the road to North Wales, where my family had come from and where Robert Dewar and Jamie Matthewson had started out on their own lives. And The Fall began…





The author and partner on the first pitches of Hadrian's Wall, January 1975. Click on the image for large picture and details


Simon Mawer 2008 - 2015. This website is written and maintained by the author.