Twenty Minutes: Walking on Snowdon

A refreshingly underawed nature writer.

To mark St David's Day, the crime noir novelist and one-time Booker judge Russell Celyn Jones recalled, in a quiet monologue of welcomely high quality (1 March, 7.30pm), a memorable walk on Snowdon - a day that started with him driving over and killing a pheasant. This brought on an inexplicable pain in his shoulders, lungs and heart, which felt as if it was "about to burst through the ribs". If all this sounds theatrical, it didn't come over that way when he was speaking and, in many ways, it set a nice, sinister tone to the essay, especially since it also featured a sphinx-like woman called Rachel (presumably Jones's wife), whom he described sitting there, warning about omens and asking, "Is this mountain male or female?" Yes, the whole thing was a bit Rachel-centric.

“So, I say to Rachel," Jones seemed always to be saying, and then "to which she replies", and so on. At first, much of what Jones recalled concerning Snowdonia and hiking in general was to be expected: Roman legions, Words­worth and slate mines. Rachel spoke about Gladstone and his prostitutes. So Jones upped his game - as one does in the presence of someone to whom one is in thrall - and started to note the excess of quartz lying around and the feral goats and he said that Snowdon felt to him to be merely asleep rather than dead. Rachel (with some genius, no?) said that the light on the mountain reminded her of "painkillers".

All of this, Jones delivered in the most unpractised yet charming way. There were moments when one suspected that he hadn't seen the text for a while or that he was reading it out loud for the first time. "I thought about . . . soldiers . . . disabled in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. "Soldiers" sounded odd, as though it were a new word. What a relief to be released, momentarily, from the slick, lit-fest, "wonder-filled" delivery ("wonder" is an international language and is understood everywhere) of the professional wild writer and psychogeographer - those voices that are forever finding wilderness and beauty in a derelict power station or discarded bin liner. They always come across as pushy and yet simultaneously wet and weirdly indistinct, whereas Jones was as clear as a silhouette cut from black paper. He had character (and Rachel had balls).

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 07 March 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The great property swindle