FIVA - An Adventure That Went Wrong. Gordon Stainforth

Extracts from emails and letters to the author

A riveting read
Book a riveting read.  John gave a talk to the Leeds Climbing Club [in 1970] about the "epic", but I think he played it down a bit!
David Smith, email to the author, 5 Jun 2014

A gripping read, inspiring
Dear Gordon Stainforth,
... infrequent chance visit local library. Fiva - on book cover, author Gordon Stainforth? Wow must read. He is also author of ‘The Cuillin’,  one of my often read books and places visited.
Fiva has brought back memories, some scary, some enjoyable. It’s a gripping read, inspiring. Captures the feel of the climbing, the awe inspiring rock faces, and the gear...
Many, many thanks for both of your books. I will read more ... I might even get back to Romsdal as you did. I look forward to reading your next book ...
Very best wishes
Tony Crosby, email to the author, 18 Feb 2014

Great read
Hi Gordon,
Just wanted to say I got Fiva for Christmas from my sister (who lives on the same street as you!) and I really enjoyed it.  Great read, well done!
Cheers, Es.
Es Tresidder, email to the author, 29 Jan 2014

A brilliant piece of writing
Dear Gordon,
Time to put pen to paper again – after over 10 years – to send you another fan letter! (The first was due to the outstanding Cuillin book.) Good heavens 'Fiva' is a fantastic book – simply couldn't put it down. I was given it for our 26th wedding anniversary and read it, almost, in a oner in a wind and rain lashed tent in Sutherland – the wild cold weather (despite being June … ) was perfect somehow! Alasdair then read it with a gammy knee (from falling in a bog near Ben Stac) so – ditto!
Anyway – we both really wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed it. What an experience to go through so young, and what a brilliant piece of writing that conveys it so freshly and so well after 40 years.
Thanks for such a cracking read, and we wish you all the very best,
Simon + Alasdair McKee, letter to the author, 30 June 2013

You must be sick of people how good "Fiva" is ...
With apologies, because you must be sick of people telling how good "Fiva" is, but I'll say it anyway!
My daughter and I read it while on a small (non-climbing) adventure in Sicily last week, and found it un-put-downable (you know how it is when your kids grab the book you are trying to read?).
I suppose I read it primarily with the mindset of the mother of teenage children; I knew the outcome, of course, but I was still on the edge of my seat until you were safe.
I climb only at a very basic level, but the days outdoors that I snatch from the teeth of a busy life are not complete until I have written about them; then they are captured and kept safe for my memories. You have produced an amazing record from your memories, and so long afterwards. It takes great humility for any of us to step back into our teenage selves and record an experience as we saw it then, and very few could do it so effectively, and so honestly, as you have done.
Thank you for a great read!
best wishes
Lizzie Cooke, email to the author, 15 April 2013

A great piece of writing
Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed it.
A great piece of writing from the heart. I felt very much with you on that route, willing you and your brother on.
Strangely enough only last week i fell due to a small wind slab avalanche and nearly ended up falling head long down the devils cellar. If is wasn't for a small turf boss and a wild axe placement i wouldn't be writing this.
Luck eh.
Again well done.
Adam Crook, email to the author, 11 April 2013

An all-time classic of mountain literature
Hi Gordon
I stumbled across 'Fiva' by accident in Waterstones at Christmas, and bought it on the basis of also being a big fan of 'The Cuillin' (which I was lucky enough to get hold of second-hand last year) and the fact it had won the Boardman Tasker Prize.
It's a brilliant read; thanks for telling the story. The way it's written you can really imagine being there. The abseil off at the end was mind-blowing!
Best of luck with its future promotion. I'm sure it will grow to be an all-time classic of mountain literature!
Cath Sanders (Leeds), email to the author, 1 February 2013

Loved the book
I did the route in 1963 with less experience and worse equipment. Just dug out my old logbook account and if Gordon had read it, he would have not got lost anywhere and might have got back for tea !
Dave Thornley, email to the author, 26 January 2013

Truly great and epic
I pulled an all-nighter reading [Fiva] shortly after you left.  Truly great and epic.  Amazing how stupid you used to be….and lived to tell.  Just kidding. 
Larry G, Houston, email to John Stainforth, 7 January 2013

Have purchased 3 copies of FIVA so far!! Well done with all the awards - you deserve it!
Wxx (Sevenoaks), Christmas card to the author, 22 December 2012

Enjoyed it tremendously
Hi John and Gordon
Just read Fiva..... lives up to the reviews, and we enjoyed it tremendously.  Looks like it's been a great success, the result of amazing collaboration between the two of you.  Must be greatly satisfying.
Happy Christmas from NZ
Pauline and Rowan Syrett, Email to the author, 20 December 2012

A wonderful book
Please tell Gorgon that I have now survived reading FIVA.
I had to put it down when they reached the misleading cairn ... sweating palms would no longer grip the book.
I took it up this evening ... could not put it down ... thought of belaying myself to the table ... but at last the relief of tarmac.
A wonderful book, I still have the taste of moss in my mouth ... and I think my knee came out in sympathy.
George Jones, Email to a friend, 19 December 2012

Enjoyed Fiva. Deserves its excellent reviews. Now I know why you upstaged me at the first student mountaineering club slideshow in October 1969. And I thought the Matterhorn made me top dog. Sigh ...
Mike Danford, Card to the author, 18 December 2012

Warm congratulations
Dear Gordon
On behalf of the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival at the Banff Centre, our sponsors and our competition jury, we would like to again congratulate you on winning this year's award for Best Book - Mountain and Wilderness Literature of Fiva: An Adventure That Went Wrong in the 2012 Banff Mountain Book Competition.
With warm wishes,
Christine Thél
Festival Coodinator
Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival
Christine Thél, Letter to the author, 17 December 2012

Great stuff ...
... with your book! Rave reviews everywhere. You must be chuffed.
Bill Wintrip, Card to the author, 17 December 2012

Stayed up all night reading it
We had some friends round for dinner last night, they used to be climbers, not in your league but you know, hanging off things on ropes. They took away Fiva and Jayne has just been round a bit grumpy saying she is suffering from sleep deprivation because she stayed up all night reading it. Thought you would like to know that!
Hilary McKay, Email to the author, 11 December 2012

Fiva fires the imagination
What superb news that Fiva is taking off in the way it thoroughly deserves and I really hope it succeeds. I personally feel that in its own way it fires the imagination at least as much as Touching the Void.
Tony Smythe, Email to the author, 8 December 2012

An incredible read
May I say that I found Fiva a quite incredible read. Totally gripping! I loved being taken back to the days of cord breeches with peg-hammer pockets etc. etc. etc. etc! I squirmed constantly. Quite incredible. Why didn't they award it to you? - Oh well....
Tony Smythe, letter to the author, 4 December 2012

A very good read!
Hi Gordon
Read “Fiva” this weekend (while on visit in London). A very good read!
Thank you.
Jan Inge Tomren, Romsdals Budstikke, Norway, Email to the author, 27 November 2012

Well done indeed
Delighted to hear that Fiva is now into a second edition.  Well done indeed.
Murray Glover, Email to the author, 19 November 2012

I enjoyed the book immensely
Many congratulations on both the short-listing of Fiva for the Boardman Tasker Prize and especially for your success at the Banff Mountain Festival. I enjoyed the book immensely although I found it emotionally difficult to read. I already knew the general outline but I was torn between wanting to know further details and fear as to what horrors I might discover. The fact that I had seen both John and yourself alive and well over 40 years later at the book launch in Hathersage only a short time before did not seem to help very much.... I am sure that it will prove to be increasingly popular and widely appreciated.
Kind regards
Brian Capper, Email to the author, 18 November 2012

I'm still confidently backing you. Best of :)
Joe Simpson, private tweet to the author, 15 November 2012

Lovely book
I really enjoyed your book. I had a real sense that probably each and every one of us (climbers) has a similar story germ that mercifully never unfolded quite so dramatically as yours …
Lovely book. Congratulations again on your Banff. Good luck with the Boardman-Tasker.
Rob Tresidder, Email to the author, 12 November 2012

Beautifully written - I could not put it down
I read Fiva with horror, I could not put it down. The fact that I know it ended happily did not seem to make me feel better. Beautifully written - Many congratulations.
Janet Guest, private letter to author, 4 November 2012

Hi, Gordon
I just heard about your book, Fiva, being shortlisted for both the Boardman-Tasker Prize and the Canadian Banff Mountain Book Competition.
I thought your book was a terrific read and is fully deserving of winning at least one of the above.
Here's keeping fingers crossed! .........
My regards to you and John.
Hugh Tassell, Email to the author, 24 October 2012

Thank you for such pleasure and excitement
As a similar visitor/explorer of Romsdal's pleasures in the 70's and early 80's, I would like to say how much pleasure I got from reading Fiva. The excitement and pleasure came in the doing (the reading), and a certain sadness in the completion. A bit like climbing really.  Thank you.
Richard Fisher, Email to the author, 7 October 2012

Great book, mate
Hi Gordon
Just a quick line to say that I read Fiva while away on a short break in the Dolomites and I thoroughly enjoyed it :)
Your narrative in the first person and from a historical perspective of when you were 19, was inspirational as really to me as the reader I was back there with you.
Very well written, exciting to the last and interesting as, like Touching the Void, always knowing you survived the experience didn't take anything away and in fact added to the drama.
I found myself avidly reading on thinking 'what next?', and the post-fall epics were gripping.
What an almighty cock up eh? But I have to take my hat off to you and your brother for not only attempting it but surviving. Boy you were lucky!
Great book mate, I hope it will do well at the Boardman Tasker awards. You certainly have my vote.
Hope to catch up sometime for a walk and chat.
Andy Birtwistle, Email to the author, 3 October 2012

Private emails when Fiva was shortlisted for the Boardman Tasker Prize:
Congratulations on being short-listed for the BT Award - I’m sure that you are very excited. It is also great for shop because 3 of the short list had their book launch at Hathersage.
See you at the awards in November!
Chris Harle, Outside, Hathersage, Email to the author, 5 September 2012

Well done Gordon. Brilliant, fantastic, not a bit surprised
Hilary McKay, Email to the author, 5 September 2012

Wonderful - congratulations!
Louise Rhind-Tutt, Email to the author, 4 September 2012

Congratulations on getting shortlisted for the BT.
Jim Walton, Email to the author, 4 September 2012

High compliments
My girlfriend is currently working her way through Fiva while finishing her thesis (alpine botany) and is comparing it extremely favourably with I Chose to Climb which has been, hitherto, her sole experience of UK mountaineering literature.  She says she prefers your writing: so high compliments there!
Yours Aye,
Andrew Huddart, Email to the author, 29 August 2012

Well done with the book
... It sounds like your book is doing very well which is great. My younger sister loved it and is buying it for my dad!
... In the meantime well done with the book,
Nick Gregory, Email to the author, 24 August 2012

Fiva is a riveting read
Hi Gordon
Congrats on the Amazon reviews.  Well deserved.  Fiva is a riveting read.
All the Best
Ashley Franklin, Email to the author, 23 August 2012

Excellent read - very gripping
Yup back from Lundy - we did Satan's Slip and Devil's slide and various other Lundy classics.
Read "Fiva" and really enjoyed it. In fact Michele had to put the book down at one point as she couldn't bear to read what happened next in much the same way as you can't bear to look when you know something is about to go horribly wrong (she did read it eventually when she had calmed down though). So excellent read, very gripping.
Duncan Bourne, Email to the author, 22 August 2012

Individual and universal humanity
Hi Gordon
I have happily posted a glowing review to Amazon:
''Fiva' is an enthralling and vivid survival story that communicates intensely the highs, lows, drama, absurdities, miseries and gallows humour of youthful misadventure. You don't need to be a climber to love this book. It is exceptionally good at communicating two kinds of things going wrong - the gradual, mounting sick feeling of things getting out of control little by little, and the shocking lurch from thinking you're on top of things to instantaneously being hurled into a violent, chaotic crisis.'
By the way, there is something about the book that no-one has expressed directly but I suspect many people felt: part of the intensity of the reaction to the book is that, written in that first person style (and including the stream of consciousness/internal dialogue parts), people started to care about you as an individual and through you your brother. It's not just the drama of it all, it is also that combination of individual and universal humanity.
Best wishes
ericinbristol, Email to the author, 21 August 2012

Fantastically well written
Hi Gordon
I have just finished it. Wow. Fantastically well written. I would love to read a follow up essay about the aftermath/recovery/bounce back.
Best wishes and many thanks
ericinbristol, Email to the author, 18 August 2012

Dear Gordon
Last year I spent rather a long time in hospital, during my convalescence my wife got hold of your Cuillin book. I just wanted to say how inspirational the book was and how helpful it was in giving me something pleasant to think about while recovering.
MattG, Email to the author, 16 August 2012

Nerve-wracking! It would make a good film
I had a lovely [birthday] and spent it mostly relaxing & reading ... your book! It's really great! I'm near the end but not finished yet; what a crazy (mis)adventure! The scene where you described the fall was just horrific: so detailed and scary. Nerve-wracking! It would definitely make a good film.
Debby Stainforth (Croatia), Facebook comment to the author, 16 August 2012

What a read!
I have now finished reading Fiva and what a read it was. I did it in two sittings - one to the top then the second covering the descent. I really enjoyed it, so send regards to Gordon on a great story ...
Anyway thanks again to Gordon.
Keith Ratcliffe, email forwarded to the author, 6 August 2012

One of the best and most original climbing books I've read
I just finished reading your book last night. It's definitely one of the best and most original climbing books I've read.
I was really impressed by your efforts and survival and it's incredible that you could recollect the experience with enough detail to create such a personal and gripping book. I guess that's not the kind of experience that you forget easily.
I hadn't quite comprehended the type and limited amount of gear you were using until I got to the end and saw the pictures. It really brought home the level of commitment, what a totally different game to climbing today.
Ben Sharp, email to the author, 2 August 2012

Loved your book
Hi Gordon…
Congrats on Fiva, it is getting great comments and reviews.…
Eugene Owens (Scotland), email to the author, 1 August 2012

It's brilliant
It's brilliant - every young climber needs to read it.
Colin Mortlock, Spirit of Adventure Foundation, email to the author, 23 July 2012

A great little book,
capturing the magnificently misplaced confidence of youth.

I hugely enjoyed Fiva - read over a couple of nights on call, didn't make the day job any easier! - and thought you did a great job of capturing that wonderfully innocent state of blissful ignorance and magnificently misplaced confidence of youth. You did a great job of not toning this down, which surely was quite difficult given how embarrassed we all are at our youthful decision making at times! I really enjoyed the filial dynamics too, and having read Tony Howard's Troll Wall a few weeks earlier, the area (and to some extent era) were still quite fresh in my mind.
So thanks again for such a great little book!
Ben Brockway (New Zealand), email to the author, 20 July 2012

Wholly absorbing, with writing that matches the intensity of the experience
I found Fiva wholly absorbing, alive in every muscle and nerve, and with a wholeness of experience quite often lacking in ‘extreme’ books. Your choice of present tense was dead right and as a narrator you correctly (and, these days, unusually) never defused the incidents by signalling them. Things that happened suddenly were sudden for the reader. The side thoughts about this and that, e.g. what your father would make of it all, made the central adventure properly complex.
The frequent evocations of the colossal ugliness and forbiddingness of the place struck me very much. I’ve always climbed where it’s beautiful, and open, and reasonably dry. So I could only boggle at the hardihood of the two of you in taking on a place so dark and oozing....
So – that was a heck of an achievement, Gordon, and I admire your grit (and your brother’s) in undertaking it and surviving it. My main point is that you’ve made the most of it, in literary terms (down to the cunning device of a smaller type for the echoes – that worked beautifully). In Touching the Void, the writing doesn't quite match the intensity of the experience; in Fiva it does.
My only (minor) reservation about Fiva is that at times you strained slightly to be ‘light’ or amusing – more early on, I thought. Then you got wholly into your stride.
I do hope the book gets the currency it deserves.
David Craig (author of 'Landmarks' etc), from a letter to Gordon, 19 July 2012

Absolutely magnificent!
... After dipping into The Cuillin, I’ve just now fallen across Fiva. Absolutely magnificent! I remember you telling me about your Norway saga, but your book is really good. There are parallels with Touching the Void, but your story is so much less claustrophobic with there being two of you. And it is written much more intimately....
You should be really proud of your book – and boy, are you and John lucky to be alive! ...
Robert Barton (Switzerland), from an email to the author, 18 July 2012

Such a good read
Just finished your book 'Fiva', and wanted to say thanks - it was such a good read, and reminded me of a few (far less serious) scrapes we've got into in the past.
Tim Harrop, private email to the author, 11 July 2012

The best book I've read
Its very easy to say it's the best book I've read. Especially as I'm not that "well read". But it is.
I've loaned it to a fellow walker who has two of your photographic books, I couldn't get him to read it a first but I pushed him. He really enjoyed the book.
I've also recommended it to other friends.
As reviews say, it is a very gripping story. A book I struggled to put down on an evening. When I get the book back next week I will read it again referring to the topos [on the website].
When is the film coming out? ;-)
Michael Gent‬‬, email to the author, 24 June 2012

A really absorbing story, told with great pace and style
Just finished reading Fiva, and it is a really absorbing story, told with great pace and style. I am sure it will be/has already been/ enjoyed by climbers old and new, and non-climbers who appreciate adventure and the outdoors. Congratulations on a fine book.
I enjoyed it immensely.
Dave Hume‬‬, email to the author, 19 June 2012

What a splendid and beautifully written account of your dicey adventure!
I hasten to write - between attacks of vertigo - to thank you for sending 'Fiva'. - What a splendid and beautifully written account of your dicey adventure with John on the Store Trolltind climb, forty three years ago. I have been recommending it to some of my old climbing friends.
Alastair Garvie, ex-Scottish Council for Physical Recreation, letter to the author, 21 May 2012

An outstanding book
I'm so pleased - I think it an outstanding book and I was mentioning this to someone yesterday only to be told, 'yes, I already know that!'
Richard Else, TV Producer, email to the author, 15 May 2012

The narrative totally gripped me
I really enjoyed 'Fiva', after slight hesitation at the beginning, the narrative totally gripped me, almost to the point where I had to put it down, to take a break from the tension! Well done!!, and I hope it will get the wide readership that it deserves.
David Hope, Letter to the author, 8 May 2012

You have a real success on your hands with this one
Today I received (and read without putting down) your brilliant book. I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed it. It certainly brought back those days very vividly to me. I reckon you have a real success on your hands with this one, Gordon. Well done.
Nick Alcock, email, April 10, 2012

An instant classic
I really enjoyed this book, I enjoyed every word. I rate it as an instant classic and I read it in one go – never done that before -  with a few refreshment breaks accompanied by Schubert on the radio.
Will Taylor, email, March 31, 2012

Terrific read
Terrific read - the narrative brilliantly captures the paradoxical mixture of unfolding dread and innocent youthful excitement.
Marc Chrysanthou, email