Jim Perrin (Wales⇾France)

Translators' House Wales writer in residence at the Maison des écrivains étrangers et des traducteurs, Saint-Nazaire, 2011

Renowned climber and mountaineer, Jim Perrin is widely regarded to be the foremost writer on the subject of rock climbing. Born in Manchester Perrin has spent over forty years living in Wales. As a young boy Perrin found an escape in climbing and he went on to become one of the leading grassroot figures of the sport.  His work has been critically acclaimed throughout his career and he has been described as ‘A remarkable writer...a sort of rucksack Thoreau...some of the finest travel writing ever’ by Jan Morris in The Guardian. His book The Climbing Essays (In Pinn, 2007) won the Mountain Literature Prize at Banff Mountain Festival 2006 and was shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year 2007. It is indicative of four decades of his writing. The essays take us through previously unpublished pieces about Perrin’s experiences but also there is a lengthy and frank autobiographical piece that enables the reader to understand more about Perrin the man as well as Perrin the climber.

An earlier collection of travel essays, Travels with the Flea and Other Eccentric Journeys (In Pinn, 2002) have been described as ‘Hunter S Thompson meets Robert Byron’. Perrin has a clear and precise style as he moves between Kazakstan and Cuba, Hungary, the Himalaya and the High Arctic. He travels by canoe, visits tribes in the Borneo rain forest, travels by Harley Davidson around the Rockies and walks around Wales with his dog, Flea. Perrin has a unique voice in travel writing, he relates tales of humanity with a lyrical approach that is enthusiastic and engaging and he truly has an eye for the beauty of the world. Whether he is writing about climbing or travelling, he writes detailed engaging observations about the environment in which he finds himself; his descriptions are wonderfully poetic and lyrical, as can be seen in The Climbing Essays, ‘The feel of rock is a kind of ecstasy – not just its texture, but the way it dances your body to its ancient, lithe configurations.’

Jim Perrin’s literary talent is philosophical and revealing; he provides the reader with an immense sense of the environment around us, as only one who is so deeply involved with that landscape can. The Scotsman writes that ‘Jim Perrin is an alchemist. He takes the base metal of his own experience and, in retorts fuelled by the power of his observation and skill with language, transmutes it into prose that coruscates with spirit and meaning’. In his work he creates scenes of both immense physical presence but he successfully transfers this image to a literary response that can be enjoyed and appreciated by a wide-ranging audience.

His other most famous books include Menlove (1985), a biography of John Menlove Edwards, an eminent British rock climber who wrote poetry based on his experiences and The Villain: The Life of Don Whillans (2005), a biography of the turbulent life of the British rock climber (1933-1985). Perrin deals with the subject matter of Whillans’ life and career with a sensitivity of an accomplished biographer. Both biographies won Perrin the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountaineering Literature and the latter also won the Mountaineering History Award at Banff Mountain Festival 2005.

Other titles include River Map (Gomer), Mirror in the Cliffs (Diadem Books, 1983), Visions of Snowdonia (BBC Books, 1997), On and Off the Rocks (Gollancz, 1988), Spirits of Place (Gomer, 1997), Yes, to Dance (Oxford Illustrated Press, 1990), Snowdon: Biography of a Mountain (Gomer, 2007) which illustrates Snowdon through the words of Perrin and the photography of Ray Wood. Perrin also contributed a short story entitled ‘Snowgoose’ to a collection of sea stories published by the National Maritime Museum. He is The Guardian’s Country Diarist for Wales, contributes regular travel essays to the Daily Telegraph and writes monthly columns for Climber & TGO magazines.

Perrin's latest publication is West: A Journey Through the Landscapes of Loss (Atlantic Books, 2010), which he describes as a psycho-geographical travel book on the nature of grief. The book looks at grief as both personally experienced by Perrin, who lost his son to suicide and his wife to cancer, but also the more widely experienced nature of grief on a cultural and symbolic level. However, it is still a ‘travel’ book; Perrin physically travels the world in order to understand his grief and to objectify a state of emotional being as well as physical location, as Perrin states ‘this is travel, but travel with an argument and an inner quest.’ Perrin takes the term ‘west’ as a physical location but also as a concept meaning the end, death, extinction and beyond. For Perrin west becomes a ‘landscape of loss’ as he undertakes a journey tied in with his own experiences as well as a search for ‘the reflective fragments of history and culture’ that attach themselves to a certain physical place.

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