Neuf vies – Expeditions A L’Everest – The movie, the podcast-or just how to publish a climbing book in the true heart of Alpinism

As the sun set purple on thé dômes of Mont Blanc, fellow guides, friends from near and far, and a welcome mix of local bibliophiles and Everest enthusiasts, arrived at Editions Paulsen in Chamonix for my book launch.

From Guides Victor Saunders and Simon Abrahams, last seen in Antarctica, to Roland Thomas and Jagged Globe Proprietor Simon Lowe, the room filled and felt like a proper Base Camp gathering.

Éditions Paulsen is a book store in front, a meeting room behind and the offices of the publishing house through the door. It is pretty close to writers heaven.

Inside the store you are enveloped in a sea of richly covered red books, and a host of authors, from tomes by French alpinist extraordinaire Sam Beaugey to five time Ultra Trail de Mont Blanc winner Lizzy Hawker.

The movie of the book. In French and English. On location at Editions Paulsen, Chamonix.

To publish a book in France, in the heart of Alpinism, it, rather improbably, began in Antarctica. I was skiing alongside Frederik Paulsen, and in the white, and the expanse, it is a good place to talk. I mentioned my book Nine Lives – Expeditions to Everest, and he found the story interesting enough to provide an introduction to the Editors at his publishing house – with a final comment “they make their own decisions.”

While in Antarctica, after a day guiding and skiing, I spent the evenings finishing off chapter 8, a rather cold endeavor as it covered my attempt to make the first winter ascent of Everest, from Tibet. As it was also a solo it was a lot of cold alone time on a very big mountain. I would of liked to finish up the book in a warmer climate, as reading or writing a book about the cold, in the cold, isn’t recommended.

A rather luxurious writing environment, Three Glaciers Retreat in Antarctica – though my writing was done out the back in the kitchen.

Nine Lives was first published in New Zealand by Bateman Books, closely followed by the U.K. at Vertebrate Publishing, when with Covid surrounding us all, I did Skype TV interviews for NZ television, podcasts in England and even an interview with Astronaut and Shuttle Commander Terry Virts in Dubai.

Oh, for the nationwide tour of New Zealand I’d enjoyed with my first two books, where personal bookstore signings, live TV interviews and enjoying a bottle of Pinot Noir backstage with friends after an evening lecture prevailed.

Meanwhile, as I digitized myself across every medium known for the English book launch, I awaited a decision from France.

Sending a climbing book off to the heart of Alpinism, to a publishing house in Chamonix, I didn’t let my hopes rise very high. Maybe a little, but only to perhaps 4,810 meters.

Headed up the classic Goutier route on Mt Blanc, a touch pre-dawn.

My climbîng accomplishments In the Alps were a few ascents of Mont Blanc and a winter solo of a rather obscure route up the Matterhorn in winter. I’d spent more time looking down on the Alps from my paraglider than climbing up them. Would my Everest stories even hold an interest for this most critical of audiences?

There was a hiatus of input, and then from their Editor Charlie Buffet came this email:

Dear Robert,

I have always considered the Kangshung ascent of Everest as the last extraordinary feat on Everest.

Therefore, I started to read your book with a mixture of excitement and apprehension: could the book be as amazing as the climb? And I am extremely happy to tell you that… it truly is !

Guérin will be pleased to publish « Neuf vies » in French. 

For an Author, naturally, it doesn’t get any better. And for a climber, it just might inspire one back into the heights yet again, to undertake yet another big adventure.

Fortunately, the months I’d spent collecting and choosing photographs, with a multitude of assistance of everyone from Ed Webster to Stephen Venables, David Hamilton to Joe Blackburn, with even a quick shot of Peter Hillary and I atop Carstenz Pyramid taken by his son Alexander, the visuals were complete.

And should you prefer the podcast, the sounds of the book are here, with key excerpts thankfully read by a native French speaker at the launch – thanks Lorraine.

As anyone who is at all familiar with google translate knows, the real art of translation is still very much alive. Plugging words into technology may give you an idea of what someone is trying to say. But if you expect someone to actually read a book, it is a very different story.

A book is still translated word by word, sentence by sentence, with interpretations needing to be made for tone, nuance and the grammatical particularités of a language.

Fortunately, Charlie Buffet is a talented climber with the additional abilities to take an English climbing tale and ensure it rings true for a French alpinist. Having read my way through the first few chapters, something I do with my English version close by, I’m sure it sounds better in French – more descriptive, more evocative, more alpinist.

For the book launch, we wove our way through extracts from my book, thankfully read by Lorraine, some adept translations by Charlie, and a few photos to illustrate the highs, lows and moments of inevitable crisis on Everest.

The warm wood surrounded us, approach shoes were the footwear of choice, a Gillet or two was in evidence against the cooling evening air, the audience could have as comfortably walked out of a tent onto the Rongbuk Glacier as into the streets of Chamonix.

Mont Blanc above the streets of Chamonix.