Up Close with Guidebook Author Lina Arthur
Lina Arthur is a guidebook author and editor based in the Lake District. In this interview, conducted in December 2022, we dig into Lina’s experience of writing a selective guide of British winter climbs and discuss some of the current challenges facing the publishing industry.
Lina Out and About for Work - Photo: Steve Broadbent
How did you start climbing?
I've always loved walking and scrambling in the hills, but for some reason it never occurred to me to try climbing, despite a long-since-forgotten climbing session at Cheddar as a child. When I started my DPhil, a friend suggested joining the Oxford University Mountaineering Club and, undeterred by initial trips to the Peak District in November, I've been climbing ever since.
Can you tell us a little about your job?
I write and edit climbing guidebooks and mountain literature, primarily for the Oxford Alpine Club. This means that some of my job involves heading out into the mountains with a camera, checking routes and walk-ins, taking topo photos and so on. This can be brilliant if the weather is nice, but in fact, the majority of my job is computer-based, transforming all the information and images I and others have gathered into written book form.
In the Office - Photo: Dave Arthur
On Tower Ridge in Winter - Photo: Steve Broadbent
Your own guidebook 'Snow & Ice' came out in 2021. What were you hoping this guide could offer that other winter climbing guides don't?
When I first started winter climbing, I found that many guidebooks omitted “easy” routes entirely or offered limited detail, particularly about things like descents. In Snow & Ice, I wanted to highlight the brilliant range of lower grade routes that the UK has to offer and to inspire people to climb them, but I particularly wanted to make winter climbing as accessible as possible. I wanted to create a guide which provided all the information needed to get to a route, climb it, and descend on one page, and which was as helpful as possible to the climber.
Are there particular challenges to writing a selective guide?
Narrowing down what goes in it! That was very tricky, and continued to change right up to the last minute. I wanted to include popular routes, but also to include lesser-known ones that are just as good. Inevitably I couldn’t include all my favourites, let alone anyone else’s, but I hope there is something for everyone.
Another challenge was that where a definitive guide focuses on one area in detail, my selection had me crisscrossing the country, chasing conditions. With limited space, it was a challenge to do justice to so many different areas.
What are you working on at the moment?
One of the nice things about my job is that it's so varied. Since the publication of Snow & Ice, I've worked on the second edition of The Alps, A Natural Companion (by Jim Langley and Paul Gannon, which was published in June) and I'm currently nearing completion of a guide to UK dry tooling, which should be available early in 2023.
It feels like publishers are currently going through quite a tough time with the price of paper, inflation, postal strikes...etc. Do you think this difficult period will pass or does it herald wider changes for the industry? Is there anything customers can be doing to help?
These are certainly tricky times. The guidebook industry suffered massively during the COVID travel restrictions, and paper prices have been rocketing ever since. I think that things will stabilise; while postal strikes are hugely detrimental to sales, particularly as this is the busiest time of year for bookselling, they are a temporary issue. More generally, publishers will have to adapt. That will mean that some great books are simply not financially viable to publish so there may be less variety, but I believe that there will always be demand for high-quality books.
The most helpful thing customers can do is to buy guidebooks! And, if possible, buy them directly from the publisher so that as much of your money as possible is directly helping to pay the costs of producing the book, thus ensuring that more books will be published in the future. Pre-orders and reviews are also very helpful and are always appreciated.
Lake District Days - Local Ice Climbing - Photo: Aileen Robertson
Lake District Days - Climbing 'Free Falling' (E4, 6s) on Steel Knotts Crag - Photo: Steve Broadbent
You're based in the Lake District. How important is it to you to live in one of the UK's mountain regions?
It's incredibly important, both for my spare time and for my work life. One of the main reasons I moved to the Lake District is that I was spending a lot of time driving to and from the mountains, and I wanted to reduce that. Being based here makes it much easier to get out into the mountains and I feel very lucky to be able to do so. The Lake District is relatively central; not only is there climbing practically on my doorstep, but North Wales and Scotland are also very accessible. It would have been impossible to write Snow & Ice while I was living in Southern England, but from the Lakes I was able to snatch good weather days whenever they occurred, and the odd day-trip to Scotland made a big difference in completing the book.
You're a fairly active Twitter user (going as far as live-tweeting a route earlier this year). Is social media something you enjoy using to share your climbing or is it more of an obligation as a writer?
I feel I should say that live-tweeting a route was a one-off way of appreciating the absurdity of a very tedious situation until I could escape onto an adjacent route! One of the things I love about climbing is that it lets me get away from a screen and focus on enjoying the moment, so I'd hate social media to be a distraction from that. That said, I love talking about climbing and sharing the wonderful places that it takes me and it's hugely rewarding to hear from people who are using and enjoying my books, so I definitely don't see it as an obligation. My job can be quite solitary, but Twitter has introduced me to many fellow outdoor writers and it's lovely to be part of an online community that shares my passions.