The mixed metaphor of Pen-Y-Fan

Last Saturday I thought I'd climbed a mountain. It turns out I hadn't. At least, not the right one. I'd driven my son up to the Brecons, dropped him off at his kayaking centre, and stayed over in a local B&B. It was all planned. The next day I'd take myself off to the bottom of Pen-Y-Fan, and walk my way to the top.

The weather was kind – no sign of rain – bright and brisk. I needn't have worried about being a lone walker on a treacherous journey through arctic wastes. It was like walking up a mountain-trail version of the M25. Serious mountaineers mixed with welly-boot wearers, dog-walkers, and entire families. The freezing air and tricksome ground soon cleared the merry-makers from the masochists.

The way up the mountain

My National Trust walking guide said two and a half hours, circular walk, there and back. Underfoot it changed from muddy to icy, to icy and snow-drifty. This is great, I thought, stopping for the umpteenth time to take in the view (while it was there) and gasps of oxygen in to my peanut-sized lungs.

Reaching the clouds

At my asthmatic pace it took two hours just to reach the clouds. Then I wasn't sure where I was. I continued ever upwards, following cotton-wool apparitions. I clamboured up a steep set of rocks, and arrived, breathing heavily, at the top of somewhere, to find picnickers sat on a pile of rocks, and other figures disappearing off like ghosts.

I toyed with the silly idea of asking someone where I was. Then I took a photo. By some miracle I found a path down that led off in a different direction. This time I was blissfully alone. The snow was deep and bright. The clouds were clearing. When I could see where I'd been, I was sure I'd done what I'd set out to do!

View from the top (of Corn Du)

A few days later, when I looked at my photo, an exact spit of the one in my walking guide, cheerfully labelled Corn Du, I realised I hadn't climbed the right mountain at all.

It was in to this mistaken Mountain climb that I looked for some comfort of writing metaphor. How often do I blindly set off on the wrong path, to find I end up missing the very thing I was aiming for? I am a dab hand at this. I'm thinking in particular of writing in a rush to submit to competitions. The quantity is there but the quality is sadly missing.

The solitary snowy path

I have found myself over the last week falling once more in to the trap, for a comp that closes on Monday. And I think, you know what? I've got the words, but I need to be patient. I need to wait for the clouds to clear, make sure my story is heading off on the right path. Then I might be in with a real chance of reaching the right bloomin' summit.

Note: there is a flipside to this mountain metaphor:

The climb up the wrong path does have its own intrinsic value. It's invigorating, good practice for the real thing, and as far as the real wrong mountain was concerned, I wouldn't have missed it for the world!

Don't forget:

Monday's humorous look at finding the right name for your characters, with Jenn.
Tuesday's Ten-minute Blog Break with Nick Cross - You won't fail to learn something new and interesting every week from this collection
Thursday's Central East network news from the Cambridge group - this really does show the wonderful benefits of joining a local SCBWI group
Friday's illustrated guide to Scraper boards, with Heather Chapman
Saturday's Celebration of Jan - our wonderful First W&P Blog Editor

Dates for your Diary:

Do pop over to SCBWI British Isles, and have a look through the fabulous range of Masterclasses on offer for both writers and illustrators. Also listed are the various critique groups available around the country - if you can't find what you're looking for, then do please give us a shout here and we'll help to point you in the right direction.

Nancy Saunders is the new Editor of W&P. You can find some of her short stories here, and on Twitter @nancyesaunders


  1. Loved this post. I too have been afflicted with confusing clouds both on the mountain I was climbing and in my writing. But often we find unexpected gems in those happy detours.

  2. Alison Smith and Cath Jones1 February 2015 at 15:12

    Thanks for the Masterclasses plug, Nancy. We've got what we are sure will be a treat coming up on 21st March when Eric Huang (Development Director at Made in Me), one of the speakers at the 'State of the Nation' session at last November's conference, leads an Author Masterclass in London on Picture Books for the Digital Age.
    Bookings at:

  3. Ilove this analogy, Nancy. What an amazing walk you had! It's wonderful that wrong mountains have lots of benefits too! Are there really any wrong mountains? Your story so reminded me of Frank Cottrell Boyce's 'Framed' - welsh mountains and all that!

  4. Nancy, you've really made me chuckle with this one as I too have fallen for the Corn Du/Pen-y-Fan, am I there yet scenario! It was only by chance that the wind took the clouds away for long enough to show the path behind Corn Du and I followed a couple of likely sorts heading that way so actually did make it to the top of Pen-y-Fan!

    You were very close and as your metaphor notes, just a little bit of patience and in my case, some luck with the change of the wind, and you were there. It's all doable and I'm sure we'll all make the top in the end!

  5. Many thanks chaps! How hilarious that you nearly did the very same thing, Zoe. V glad the clouds cleared for you. I may be going for a re-match in a couple of weeks...


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