It was one of the more unusual projects I’d worked on – and one of the most inspiring. For several months last year and into 2020 I helped create Life on the Mountain, the stunning book by film producer Terry Abraham, published this summer.
The book is a curious thing: neither biography nor autobiography, I prefer to think of it as a “conversational biography”. Over the course of numerous meetings in various Cumbrian pubs (if you know Terry and his love of good beer, you’ll understand the choice of venues), Terry and I chatted about his fascinating life, covering not only the decade since he started making the epic documentary films for which he has become renowned, but also the darker, earlier days: his tough childhood, the deaths of his inspirational grandparents, his career in pubs, and the redundancy that sparked the filmmaking career that put him where he is today.
I’d known Terry for some years before we embarked on this project at the behest of Cumbrian publisher Inspired by Lakeland. In particular, I had a great couple of days with him and my friend Mark Richards on Helvellyn, filming a walk for the DVD Helvellyn with Mark Richards, which Terry made in 2014 (six years ago? Really?). But what I learned about Terry over the course of those interviews, or “chitchats” as he called them, only bolstered my respect and admiration for what he’s done in turning his life around. His story struck a personal chord: I too had been made redundant shortly before starting work on the book, and hearing Terry recount his life made me all the more determined to put my own disappointment behind me, and make the most of the opportunities the book presented.
When, after submitting the manuscript, I was sent the mocked up pages back in March, I was blown away – I have to say, they looked cracking. Full credit to publisher Dave Felton and designer Andrew Chapman, who took the words I’d assembled from those conversations, married them to more than 100 stunning photographs taken by Terry, and created this fabulous piece of publishing history.
2020’s been notorious for many reasons and it didn’t hold off when it came to this project. The original plan had been to publish the book at the same time as Terry’s Life of a Mountain: Helvellyn film was due to receive its grand premiere at Rheged, in May, but that was thwarted by the initial coronavirus (Terry refers to it as “bat flu”) lockdown. The subsequent re-arranged premiere, which would have been held over several sell-out screenings at Zeffirelli’s in Ambleside, also fell victim to the virus when the second national lockdown was imposed. The film eventually received an online premiere, thanks to the London Mountain Festival, on November 7, an event that proved so popular that it’ll get another bite at the cherry this coming weekend – visit the festival’s website here for full details.
I’d like to extend my thanks to Terry and David Felton to inviting me to play a part in such a inspiring and rewarding project, and to say a special “thank you” to Tracy Sellors here in Ingleton, who did a terrific job transcribing recordings our lengthy, rambling interviews; if I’d had to transcribe all of them myself, I’d still be typing away!
The book is available from Inspired by Lakeland via this link, or if you happen to be passing through Ingleton on one of those rare, lovely non-lockdown days, you can buy a copy from Gingerbooks & Co, the lovely arts & crafts shop run by my partner Steph with our friend and neighbour, the artist Clare Tyas.
The DVD of Life of a Mountain: Helvellyn, is available from Striding Edge Productions, as are DVDs and even boxed sets of Terry’s other Lake District films.
In the early days of 2012, reeling from a health scare and redundancy, a 35-year-old Midlands backpacker with a love of cinema, wild places and Lakeland pitched his tent on Scafell Pike and set up a budget camcorder.
It was the start of a journey that has seen Terry Abraham battle blizzards, near-death falls, bitter cold and intense loneliness to make a trilogy of films that have been seen my millions and become the benchmark of Lake District cinematography.
In Life on the Mountains Terry presents more than 100 exclusive photos from a decade on the fells, and speaks candidly about his troubled early life, a disowned father, depression and his love of real ale before revealing the tricks and techniques of his craft and detailing the landscapes he’s grown to love.
From wild nights on Harter Fell to meeting Cumbrian legends; from stalking deer in Martindale to documenting Storm Desmond’s fallout; from dawn shoots of golden-hour panoramas to becoming a campaigning voice for Lakeland, Life on the Mountains is the story of one man’s mission to capture the Lake District as never before – and of finding peace in the fells.
Blurb from the back of Life on the Mountains by Terry Abraham,
as told to John Manning,
published by Inspired by Lakeland