Even the most successful authors have to suffer the occasional fit of spite from critics and readers. Few, however, have to contend with the twin indignities of being branded a “crevasse wanker” and having their accounts of preternatural mountain endurance rubbished by sulky teens.
Fortunately, as befits a man who has outshuffled the Grim Reaper in both the Andes and the Himalayas – and who chose an automated alcohol dispenser as his luxury on Desert Island Discs so that he could drink himself to death rather than endure a protracted insular exile – Joe Simpson is not the sort to sulk.
When a gaggle of GCSE students used Twitter to fume at being made to study Simpson’s account of how he spent days crawling off a Peruvian mountain with a broken leg, he decided to engage with his adolescent critics.
His response did not impress his questioner, who replied: “Bet I know more about how you put tension in the first chapter than you do.”
“I just write the shit,” came the response.
Not all the tweets he received were so polite.
“Your book is shit and you should feel bad,” wrote one. “Three chapters of crawling didn’t inspire me to write about your book in my exam,” confessed another. “It was rather boring really.”
Other correspondents were even more blunt: “YOUR BOOK IS THE REASON MY ENTIRE YEAR WILL FAIL OUR ENGLISH EXAM!!,” screeched one. “LEARN TO WRITE ILLITERATE FOOL!”
By far the most lively was Simpson’s exchange with a young Turk studying English.
“I wrote you a few months ago. I said I had an exam about your book,” ran his plaintive tweet. “I failed because of you. You owe to me!”
Oddly, Simpson’s reply – “Nope, you’re just crap at English” – failed to smooth things over.
“I am a student who learn English,” he shot back. “But you are a stupid who fell down on the mountain. We are waiting you in Turkey!”
By Wednesday night, however, the author appeared to be tiring of the abuse and tweeted: “A lovely day of children writhing in their hellish hormonal middens … good night vile innocents may you all seethe in bilious acid pus … “
Despite the tone of the tweets, Simpson told the Guardian he had actually found them quite funny. “If I’m brutally frank about it,” he said, “I really don’t give a toss what people think about what they think I went through. Nobody has the first idea, really.
“The book and the film were as accurate as they could be and they don’t come anywhere near describing what it was like. [But] a bunch of spotty schoolkids who can’t read and can’t pass their exams – and who start calling me a ‘crevasse wanker’ – I find really quite amusing actually.”
Although he dismissed most of his correspondents as “kids who are stamping their feet and displaying their hormones”, he pointed out that he had received more than a few tweets from students praising the book.
Simpson also said the Twitter abuse was not a new phenomenon, and seemed to follow the pattern of exams.
“It’s been happening for ages,” he said. “At one point I thought it was a great honour to have your book slated for the GCSE and now I’m beginning to think it’s a pain in the arse, frankly.”
If the worst came to the worst he said, he might “block the little fuckers” or stop tweeting altogether.
Still, he mused, there was an odd irony to the situation – albeit one that was probably lost on his critics. “I’ve never had children; I made it specifically impossible to have children – and I’m being hassled by children,” he said. “Maybe it serves me right.”
[Mountain climber via Galyna Andrushko / Shutterstock]