An Interview With Geordie Stewart, The Youngest Briton To Climb The Seven Summits
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I was lucky enough to interview Geordie, ahead of the release of his first Book 'In Search of Sisu'. In our conversation, we discussed his inspiration, the expedition, the challenges of writing and publishing a book, before finally discussing his future aspirations.
This is the full interview, you can read a shorter version by clicking here.
Geordie on Mount Elbrus // Picture courtesy of Geordie Stewart
First, I would like to ask you about your inspirations behind this remarkable feat. I heard that you were inspired to embark on this challenge after reading a book about Mount Everest. Can you recall what inspired you from the book?Yes, I read a book on Everest when I was 17. The book was a very open and very honest account of Everest. I wanted to achieve some sort of drive. At that time, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I had plans for a gap year but no real direction. About halfway through the book, I thought Everest could be the goal, something to drive towards. That is when the idea of an expedition of sorts first came about. What made you choose the seven summits as the challenge for you? When I was 17, prior to sitting my A-level examinations - and with all exam students procrastination set in - I found myself scrolling through Wikipedia, leading myself coming across the seven summits. I began to think this was the challenge for me. My gap year plans went out the window and I set about embarking on the expedition.
"I WROTE THE 1ST DRAFT WHICH WAS 90,000 WORDS IN 2 WEEKS, WHICH WAS QUITE INTENSE."
How did you prepare for such a daunting challenge, with little or no prior experience? All expeditions naturally built up to Everest. My first expedition was the highest summit in South America when I was 18. I had lied on the application form to even get on the expedition as I had no climbing experience. Before I set off, I had a quick climbing course in Scotland, scrambling for equipment I could use for the expedition. What was the most thrilling experience during your Seven Summits adventure? The expedition to the Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia is probably the most thrilling experience. Up until that point, I had gone on a lot of expeditions to familiar mountain ranges. It was my final climb before my second attempt at Everest. I was with seven Americans on the expedition; we had to hike through the dense jungle for two to three weeks crossing rivers and other challenges, to then be greeted by the mountain... The sheer absurdity and enjoyment made it thrilling.
At my age of 18, I could not imagine completing such a task. It seems inconceivable
Well, I think at 18 you are much for capable than you believe, particularly more than me at the age of 29. At 18, you are naive. I looked at Everest, saw it and thought "I can do that and I want to do that". Whereas suddenly life gets in the way and makes a lot harder when you get older.
Your first book, launching on the 4th July, is entitled ‘In Search of Sisu’. It focuses on the psychology of mountaineering. As well as it documenting your own transition from teenager to adulthood, documenting your struggles both on and off the mountain. This is different from conventional climbing books as you state on your website. What inspired you to take this different approach?
If I had written the book when I was 22 and just got back from Everest, it would have been a different book. It would have just been on the climbs. It would have been a surface-level book without going any deeper. I would not have had the benefit of life experience, hindsight and time to reflect on that period.
It was quite a unique thing to do. I was never told to do it, I was never forced into it nor was it ever suggested that it was something I should do. It was just something that spawned from my own mind.
There were many things that I was going through and stuff that happened that not many people know about. I actually think that the psychology element is more important than the climbs themselves. It is very easy to look at mountaineers and explorers and just see the end result. When actually, the bit that shows the most vulnerability and the greatest strength is the bit off the mountain; or certainly what is going on between your two ears and goes on within your head.
Geordie on the top of Carstensz Pyramid // Picture courtesy of Geordie Stewart
Geordie traversing the North Face of Mount Everest // Picture courtesy of Geordie StewartI see that it self-published - what are some of the challenges you have faced in having the book published yourself? I initially wrote it because I wanted to convey the story. I wanted to convey the experiences I went through. I also believed there were societal issues that there were worth talking about. I looked briefly for agents and for traditional publishers. I eventually decided, partly due to time constraints, but most importantly due to creative control. I did not want anyone to tinker with my story. I believed it was a very personal story. If that means I sell fewer copies then so be it - because I think worth it is a story worth telling. It is a story which needs to be vulnerable and personal. How long did it take you to complete the book? I wrote the 1st draft which was 90,000 words in 2 weeks, which was quite intense. The editing phase has taken a lot longer. It includes my own editing, a professional copier, a professional proofreader, deciding on a cover before thinking about the crowdfunding campaign. I had a lot of content which was stored away in my mind which needed to get out. I needed to express myself by sitting down and just writing it.
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"I WAS NEVER TOLD TO DO IT, I WAS NEVER FORCED INTO IT NOR WAS IT EVER SUGGESTED THAT IT WAS SOMETHING I SHOULD DO. IT WAS JUST SOMETHING THAT SPAWNED FROM MY OWN MIND."
Do you have any advice for budding authors who may want to take a similar approach through self-publication? I have learnt an enormous amount about the industry. When you decide to make that self-publishing decision, you have to understand every aspect of it. Otherwise, you do not have the wider knowledge to, first, create the right book and, secondly, publicise the right book. I think the advice would firstly be start writing. I know that sounds really obvious but it is really easy to have a story and a yearning to get it out but not do so. It is important to start. You may never publish it, you may never have a book but you will never regret taking steps to do so. You will not regret that first draft, even if it stays on your laptop! The more you write, the better you will get. You will develop your own writing style, you will work out that you can’t use that word or a sentence can’t sound like that. The second thing I would recommend is to read more. I have loved reading for a long time and I have loved the use of the English language, how writers express the world around them through the use of words. By having that passion, it naturally increases your writing ability. You understand your own writing style and how you can implement that and your own experiences.
Geordie on the Vinson summit // Picture courtesy of Geordie StewartDo you have any words of wisdom/ advice for people who may be having similar struggles that you endured yourself? Firstly I would say: "it is OK to dream, it is good to dream". It is healthy to have an ambitious goal; otherwise, you will never reach it. It's good to have something to aim towards. Secondly, "keep it going". There are always people that tell you it's not possible. They will laugh, they will mock and shout at you and that’s fine because you have to let them do that. You have to believe in yourself. That period when things are hard and people are telling you it’s really difficult, or in my case, you can’t get the funding or the training hours...those are the times where you need to be belligerent in your own mind and maintain that conviction that you can follow it through. What are your future aspirations particularly now you are departing the Army? Any more great adventures on the horizon? I have spent five years as an officer in the Army, and I have just finished after a wonderful period. It was a brilliant, a brilliant half a decade. Now I want to publish this book, which is fantastic, I am looking forward to the reaction and how that goes down. Then I want to go on a big cycling adventure around the world. I want to explore the world, to see beautiful faces and meet new people.
"THE BIT THAT SHOWS THE MOST VULNERABILITY AND THE GREATEST STRENGTH IS THE BIT OFF THE MOUNTAIN"
Will you write a book about that one as well? Yeah, I probably will write a book. Because I was in the army, I didn't have an avenue where I could express my creativity writing-wise. Now, after writing 'In Search of Sisu', I feel liberated in my creative ideas - which is a joy. I will certainly write a book on the cycling trip because of its nature, I will meet great people and see great places. It will give an insight to people of a world they haven’t seen. Crucially it may give people inspiration to do something similar.
Geordie on the Vinson massif // Picture courtesy of Geordie StewartThis is inspirational for me - as an 18-year-old. To see what you’ve achieved it makes me think myself what I can go onto achieve. It may not be in the same vein as you and the seven summits but it gives me a belief I can go onto big things. That's the really important distinction though. Although I said it's important to dream, it does not matter what that dream is. I strongly believe in the impact of those teenage years in terms of the opportunities available to you, the ability to travel and see the world and meet people. It doesn’t need to be climbing the seven summits, or a polar expedition or breaking new records. Do it if you want to, but you can just as easily set a target or ambitious goal that is a lot smaller. Some of my favourite expeditions have been with a couple of friends on a low budget which was just as fun because you are seeing something and doing something that not everyone else does.
To find out more about Geordie and his book visit his website. The book is currently available as an e-Book and paperback on Amazon. You can see where his next adventures take by following him on Instagram and Twiter: @geordie_stewart