The Stag, The Castle and The Award Winning Author
Tuesday, May 02, 2017
This weekend we were lucky enough to listen to award winning author Piers Torday's, talk at the Chiddingstone Literary Festival in Kent. A fantastic event, despite the unreliable British weather!
We caught up with Piers and made him smile with our Stag statue, customised by our resident engraver Nigel Hartfield, with red eyes to replicate the Stag who leads The Last Wild in his famous book. "When I wrote this book, I had no idea that someone would do this for me," Piers said.
Our Stag was in pride of place outside the main marquee at Chiddingstone Castle! Wow!
Flying the Chilstone flag
Piers talked about his childhood, his love of animals and the authors that inspired him to write. He actually met the legendary Roald Dahl when came to speak at Piers' mother's bookshop!
Piers about to take to the stage
Piers in action
A fascinating insight into the author's past. We hope the children in the audience will be inspired like he was and become writers, they all seemed to love his stories.
Piers kindly agreed to an exclusive interview for Chilstone afterwards.
Interview with Piers Torday
What or who inspired you to write?
I always wanted to write, and enjoyed writing stories and sketches and plays as a child, but it wasn’t until my father, completely out of the blue at age 59, turned from business to fiction with his first book Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, that I seriously wondered whether I might stand a chance at being able to follow in his footsteps.
Where do you write?
I am very lucky to have my own study, full of children’s books to inspire me, as well as pictures and objects important to me, and family photos. It overlooks our garden which is what I tend to stare at when I need inspiration. I have tried writing in cafes and libraries, and sometimes have to write on trains and in hotel rooms, but my study is where I prefer to write, with my dog on his cushion reminding me when I need to stand up and take a stroll. I love the idea of writing in gardens, but I fear the glare on my laptop screen would be a problem. Reading in gardens I love!
What would your perfect garden be like?
The garden we have is pretty perfect (designed by my mother) – lots of lovely pots, gravel, and foliage and fragrance wherever you look, but it is also in a small yard behind a packed Victorian terrace. Were we unconstrained by space and budget, I would love a large lawn, a pond of some kind, and some beautiful trees – an old oak, a graceful willow…and perhaps some handsome statuary as well!
Despite the changeable weather, the children had a brilliant time!
What made you chose a stag as the leader of the Last Wild and where did you get the idea for the book?
I knew the animals needed a leader, and I wanted this animal to be not only distinctively a feature of the British landscape, but an animal who hadn’t been co-opted into this fictional role already. Apart from a legendary cameo as Harry Potter’s Patronus, a stag seemed to fit this bill. And if you have ever been lucky enough to see one in the wild, you can see what natural, majestic leaders they make…
You used to write for theatre and television, how different is it to write children’s fiction?
The primary difference is that both theatre and TV are intensely collaborative – meetings and discussions in rooms followed by writing, then discussing what’s been written very quickly, more notes and talking, often more than one person adding lines or chipping in…whereas fiction (not just children’s) tends to be one person in front of a computer slaving over a manuscript until it is perfect as they can make it. An editor and agent will then have their say, of course, but it will never be as social or multiple a process as theatre and TV. And I was mainly involved in comedy, so while there is a lot of humour in all my writing, it is of a very different kind!
What led you to children’s fiction?
It wasn’t by design, although in retrospect it was not surprising. My imagination was developed by the books I loved as a child, and I continued to read some in adult life – like Harry Potter or Northern Lights. I wanted to write about the environment, and I wanted to write a big adventure – but as soon as my animals started to talk, my agent said “That’s a children’s book.” And I was completely down with that.
Signing books and meeting the fans
Which authors inspired you as a child?
So many, but C S Lewis, Eva Ibbotson, Roald Dahl and Susan Cooper all stand out.
Who bought you your most memorable book?
My grandfather bought me a book of Greek myths for Christmas one year, and that was when I began to discover that stories didn’t in fact begin with Roald Dahl, brilliant though he was…
How did it feel to finish your father’s novel The Death of an Owl?
It was a daunting prospect, to be be sure, but it was something I wanted to do, a very personal if public act, a way of thanking Dad for everything he did for me throughout his life. He desperately wanted to see the book get published. I have no idea if my version is remotely close to what he wanted, but I think he would have appreciated the effort at least! It wasn’t that emotional to write, funnily enough, as I had to be practical and get on with finishing the book, but it was very sad when it finally came out, as it was kind of the last thing I got to do with him. Once it was finished, I knew he really was gone.
How do you help Beanstalk and can the public volunteer?
I’m actually on sabbatical at the moment to finish a book, but from the autumn I will be back working with them as a Reading Helper. I go in once a week (and some go twice or more) to my local school, and read with (not to) children who for a variety of reasons, need extra space and reading time. It’s a joy to do and each time you learn something different from them. Beanstalk are expanding all over the country, and you can check if they are operating in your area and sign up, over at https://www.beanstalkcharity.org.uk/Pages/Category/become-a-reading-helper
If you could go back in time to speak to yourself at the start of your writing career what advice would you give yourself?
Have faith and be patient! Writing is all about persevering, a marathon, not a sprint, and that goes for when books are published too. It is about thinking, reflecting, writing, and waiting – if you want things to move quickly then stick to the internet!
Pretending to be The General from The Last Wild
Thank you very much Piers for taking part and for a great day.
Thank you for asking me and for the fascinating questions, it’s been a pleasure.
A former theatre and television producer, Piers is the author of five books, for children and adults. His bestselling first book for children, The Last Wild, was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Award and has been translated into over 13 languages. His second book, The Dark Wild, won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. The son of the late Paul Torday (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) Piers recently completed his father’s final unfinished novel, The Death of an Owl (W&N).His latest book for children, There May Be A Castle, is out now, along with a new short story in Abi Elphinstone's Winter Magic collection.