Marni Jackson and Tony Whittome have led The Banff Centre’s Mountain and Wilderness Writing program since its inception in 2005, and they say it’s reached a sweet spot. The Banff Centre Press has just published Rock, Paper, Fire, a collection of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry by past writers from the program. Jackson and Whittome have worked with dozens of writers over those eight years – some well-established and others just starting out – and they say that the program has evolved over the years, but personal stories will always be at the heart of it. “The remarkable thing is the spirit which develops among these very different writers coming from different areas of experience, and age ranges, and different countries,” Whittome says. “It’s a kind of organic unity that develops.”
Rock, Paper, Fire includes 24 pieces: essays and stories by writers and adventurers including Barry Blanchard‘s essay First Ascent, about family, friendship, and loss, and the role climbing has played in his life through it all. Transgressions, by Katie Ives, recalls the moment her love of climbing began — when as a child, she ascended a steep sea cliff with her father watching from below. Helen Mort’s collection of six poems, titled No Map Could Show Them, reflects on climbing from a woman’s perspective.
Jackson says she believes people who are comfortable in the outdoors usually make good writers. “They seem to have a natural feel for narrative and story,” she says. “They have a goal they want to reach, so you have that narrative arc.” Whittome adds, “There’s something about solo climbing or exploration — there’s an interior quality to that. You inhabit your mind a lot, obviously in writing, but also in significant achievements outdoors.”