I HAVEN'T counted the days until Christmas, but it still feels strange to be posting out calendars in the midst of a July heatwave featuring pictures of snow-covered mountains.
You have to plan ahead, of course, and the year-on-year growth in interest in the Moonwalker calendar to raise funds for Scottish Mountain Rescue means an early start is essential.
It's funny to think that this annual event began merely as an aside to selling books at the Dundee Mountain Film Festival seven years ago.
I first took a stall at the festival in 2014, the year the first Moonwalker book came out. The publishers thought it would be an ideal place to have a presence and sent on a couple of boxes of books, 48 in total, for the event.
It was all very last minute, and, as I quickly realised when I saw some of the elaborate stalls in the market place, somewhat naïve. My table had a few posters and a laptop slideshow running, and looked fine at first, if a little sparse, with all the books laid out.
Sales went well. So well, in fact, that by the end of the first evening I was down to a mere handful of books scattered across the table. We had severely underestimated the stock. When I arrived next morning, the posters had also gone. I had promised them to a few people: I didn't expect that they would turn up to claim them after I had left the previous evening. Still, it's nice to be wanted.
Saturday is the big day at the festival, and the cupboard was looking very bare. By lunchtime, I was down to just a few books. I needed to get my hands on more copies fast for the afternoon and evening sessions. Cue a hurried visit to Waterstones.
“How many copies of Moonwalker do you have in stock?” The answer was 13.
“I'll take them all.”
Buying my own books at full price meant no profit margin, but at least it gave the empty table a bit of a reprieve. By the end of the night the table was completely bare. I wouldn't make the same mistake next time. And so the calendar idea was born.
The initial thought was that it would supplement the book sales, to make the stall look busier and less pathetic. They were cheap (£5) and they were cheerful, 12 of my best mountain images with each picture taken in the month it represented. I also produced a series of five Christmas cards. A percentage from every sale would go to Scottish Mountain Rescue. The calendars proved a big hit. They sold out and, along with the cards, raised more than £130 for our rescue teams that year.
I ordered a slightly larger number for the next two years, and the donations rose to more than £200. But in 2018 I decided to expand the print run and take the calendar sale beyond the festival, and donate all the profits to mountain rescue. The festival tally was also boosted by the sale of second-hand mountain books and maps, as well as attracting generous donations. The result was a cheque for almost £600 being handed over. The next year that amount was topped again.
It seemed the calendar had taken on a life of its own and despite the festival being cancelled last year due to Covid restrictions, we reached the highest tally ever, almost £750. Over the six years, it has helped raise more than £2500.
I believe that one of the reasons for its success is that it remains a bargain. It has been £5 for seven years now, and I have resisted the temptation to price it higher. There are better, more professional, calendars around but not for a fiver, and certainly not with all the money going to mountain rescue. I have also turned down offers by retailers to sell it online and in store. That would mean barcodes, sales accounts and inevitably higher pricing and less profit for the intended cause.
The biggest problem is the yearly increase in postage costs, and that may become something beyond my control in trying to keep the price down. I am constantly surprised by the number of overseas sales, especially when the postage far outweighs the cost of the calendar.
The pictures are personal, not the usual tourist shots of our iconic mountains. I try to pick unusual angles, colours and times of day.
I have been invited to speak to many camera clubs over the years, and I always start by saying that I regard myself as a mountaineer who takes photos rather than a photographer who climbs mountains.
The landscape makes the images, not me. It's simply about being in the right places at the right time.