Even for those who would never dream of rock climbing, the thrills, spills â€“ and laughs â€“in this thoughtful account are a delight, Don Currie discovers. Author Jules Lines also answers a few of our questions
Writing on rock climbing, with its technical language and minutely detailed concentration on routes, can be impenetrable to the non-fanatic reader. But the astonishing free solo climber Jules Lines deserves to reach a much wider audience with his first book, Tears of the Dawn.
Thereâ€™s plenty of nail-biting narrative, and itâ€™s delivered in an appealing style, jargon-free, short on machismo and rich in reflection. Lines takes astonishing risks, but makes no claims to be a hero. He says he loathes boredom and is addicted to adrenalin, and his efforts to explain his approach to danger can be likeably low-key. He becomes drawn to on-line gambling, and is warned by friends that he is on a slippery slope. Yet he reflects: â€œI found slippery slopes far more exciting than non-slippery ones.â€
Solo climbing, with its associated long nights alone in a tent â€“ or even shivering on the back seat of a car â€“ leaves plenty of time for reflection, and Lines has obviously thought about his sport a lot. Sometimes his reflections are heartfelt: â€œI found soloing in the mountains stimulating and humbling, clearing my conscience in a modern world that doesnâ€™t seem to have one.â€
At other times his musings verge on the comical. Wedged into a tiny space high on a cliff, he becomes aware of the multi-coloured lichen all around him: â€œI became acutely conscious that I wasnâ€™t alone. I was surrounded by basic, living organisms. Like me, they were just breathing and fighting for survival.â€ With only lichen for company, many of us would still feel pretty lonesome, and itâ€™s a tribute to Linesâ€™s optimistic spirit that he finds solace in these unlikely companions.
Occasionally his reflections verge on the trite (â€œthere are so many answers to be discovered to so many questionsâ€), and he can come across as slightly befuddled (working on a North Sea oil rig, he notes, was not â€œtotally in tune with my ethicâ€).
But very often his writing is vivid. He discovers deep water soloing on the south coast of England and returns to Scotland full of enthusiasm: â€œI felt like Drake or Magellan, returning from the South China Sea with a galleon laden with precious jade, incense and spices.â€
Known in climbing circles as The Dark Horse, he manages to be rebellious without being confrontational. He breaks every safety rule in the book, most notably the one about always telling someone where you are going â€“ there are countless occasions when, if Lines were to fall, he would not be found for days, or weeks. On one occasion he does his bit for conservation by shooing two deer away from a party of stalkers and then has to race away from the scene as they give chase in their Land Rover.
Even readers with no interest in climbing of any sort will find much to enjoy here. Lines revels in the landscapes of Scotland, England and Wales as well as those of Australia, South Africa, the Americas and elsewhere. His descriptions are fresh and thoughtful, but these lands are never empty of people.
Lines finances his travels with dangerous work on building sites, oil rigs and shipyards â€“ anywhere calling for strength, abseiling ability and a good head for heights. And the encounters he has at these places are as singular as the rocks he loves so much. Fishermen off Brazil use bamboo poles to catch tuna, â€œlocked in the 17th-century hunter-gatherer lifestyleâ€ just feet away from the drill ship on which Lines and his colleagues use complex engineering to suck oil from a depth of 8,000 feet.
All that climbing clearly develops the powers of reflection.
When Lines has his first really serious accident â€“ serious by his standards, that is â€“ itâ€™s almost too Hollywood that it happens not while climbing but while paragliding. His description of the event is as unflinching as youâ€™d expect.
When Jules was interviewed for issue 23 (March/April 2014), he was also kind enough to answer a few extra questions about the book itself. To read the full interview, look out for issue 23 – coming soon to newsagents, stockists and, of course, our online shop.
The title of your book, Tears of the Dawn, a reference to dewdrops on the grass, is not the most obvious one for a rock climbing book. How did the title come about?
My working title was The Nth Life, and it changed to Vanishing Point after one of the chapters. There were too many films or books called that so I discussed with my editor that we needed something original and unique â€“ a phrase I had conjured up somewhere. We decided on Tears of the Dawn.
We are constantly urged to be properly equipped, yet you write about ice climbing in boots three sizes too big. Do you think weâ€™re over cautious?
Some people are over cautious and some not cautious enough. The more experienced you become the better you understand your minimum requirements. I didnâ€™t want to wear big boots; I just couldnâ€™t afford the right size ones at the time.
This is your first book, yet itâ€™s packed with arresting sentences such as this one: â€œNervous giggles welled from the depths of my stomach as I unwound and dropped into the cold embrace of the sea â€“ a sanctuary where gravity has no jurisdiction.â€ Will you write another book?
Probably, yes, but not for a few years. I need time and a lot of clear headspace to create good literature.