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Guest Author - Horatio Clare

Horatio Clare is an author and journalist. He worked at the BBC as a producer on Front Row, Night Waves and The Verb. He has written two memoirs, 'Running for the Hills' and 'Truant: Notes' from the Slippery Slope, a novella, 'The Prince's Pen', and two works of travel and nature writing: 'A Single Swallow' and 'Down to the Sea in Ships'. He wrote and edited 'Sicily Through Writers' Eyes'. In 2015 he published Orison for 'A Curlew', a combination of travel and nature writing, and the award-winning children's book, 'Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot'.

What inspired you to start writing?

Reading! Growing up with out a TV, which seemed a bitter misfortune at the time, meant my brother and I read a lot. And then we played games, inspired by reading - we were pirates, Roman soldiers, snow  leopards, anything - and then one night in bed I remember starting to write a story about a peregrine falcon, mainly because Mum would not have let me go outside and pretend to be one, even if I wasn't afraid of the dark, which I was a bit - we lived on a remote mountain. So that was how it began.

‘Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot’ is your most recent book, what was your favourite thing about writing this?

The feeling I was talking to children, and that a large part of me, still a child, was going on an adventure with them, and with Aubrey, to fight the Terrible Yoot. I love adventures in real life, as it were, but you have to be careful. In Africa last year a hippopotamus bit my canoe in half. There were crocodiles in the river too and it was a bit too exciting for a couple of minutes. But when you write, and especially when you write for children, the adventures are limitless, and perfectly safe.

How did it feel when ‘Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot’ was chosen as the winner of the Branford Boase Award?

It is just the most wonderful feeling. Like scoring a try in rugby or a great football goal - and I was never good at football, I think I scored one in my whole time in education. It takes so many people to make a book - me, my editor, and our superb artist, Jane Matthews, and the designer, and the printers, and the people who sell it, and readers who recommend it, and children who support it - so when you get an award it's for all those people, and it feels amazing to make people happy, of course.

When writing 'Down to the Sea Ships', you travelled on Maersk ship, what was this experience like?

Oh it's the best! A real adventure. The sea is a vast wild world of beauty and mystery and danger. Sailors are often incredible people, brave, resourceful, immensely kind and self-sacrificing -  they do not see their familes and friends for months and months. But they make the whole world turn. Without those great ships and all they carry we could not live our lucky lives. So the two voyages I made with them were life-changing. I seriously recommend it: Charles Darwin said the same thing. Going to sea is an extraordinary and rich experience. You would have to be very special to want to do it for your whole life, though. I could not manage that.

How true is ‘Running from the Hills’ to your childhood?

As completely true as I could make it. I have a good memory, and I really just copied the scenes and adventures, the great snows, the golden summers, the conversations and the animals from my childhood straight onto the page.

What is the best memory from your childhood?

That is very hard to say. There was one summer evening when my mother, my brother and I went out late in the dusk to watch badgers. We sat very still on the edge of the wood. And, like a miracle, a badger appeared, and all her cubs with her, and the played just there, just in front of us. It was truly magical. When my American editor bought 'Running for the Hills' for her publishers in New York she said 'I just loved that bit. I loved the bit about the beavers.' I said, 'I'm so glad. But you realise they are not beavers, we didn't have any beavers in Wales, they're badgers.' She said 'Beavers, badgers, whatever. I love them.'

‘The Prince’s Pen’ is a collection of 11 stories, which story is your favourite and why?

Well, apart from the one I wrote, 'The Prince's Pen', which I am proud of, my favourite one in the series - in which ten Welsh writers each chose one story to tell inspired by the stories of the Mabinogion - is 'White Ravens' by Owen Sheers. Young writers, say 13 years old and up, would love it. And learn a lot from it. Also the 'White Trail' by Fflur Dafydd is brilliant, and the 'Dreams of Max And Ronnie' by Niall Griffiths. When you are ready, read everything by Niall Griffiths! He is an amazing writer - they all are.

If you could give a young writer one piece of advice what would it be?

Use your eyes and ears more than most people. Everyone sees the world in their own way, but a writer has to say something new or interesting about it, so our job is to look very carefully, and listen very hard. Look for the strange, the particular, the things that make you laugh or move you. If something attracts you it will attract other people when you write about it, as long as you get to the real point of your passion, or interest, or curiosity. So for example, a giant containership is easy: if you get near one of those they are so astonishing it is easy to write well about them. But normally we deal with less obviously extraordinary things.  Imagine an old barn, stones showing through old whitewash, and at the foot of the barn wall, a clump of nettles growing. They are small and very dark green, late summer nettles, full of vicious sting. But they grow there as if they always have, as if they have been there for a hundred years, as long as the barn, and the old farmers who built the barn saw those nettles too. Got it? Well, I had a feeling, before I wrote Running for the Hills, that if I could just describe those nettles and the corner of that barn, the whole book would work. And so it did.

Where can fans find out more about your work?

The easy way to get a list of my books and stories is to put my name into Amazon. I don't recommend you get the books from them because they hardly give the publishers any of your money, and the publishers really deserve it. But you can see all the books I have written there. Then if you go to your local bookshop they can order what you want for you. You can also read articles and stories I have written for newspapers and magazines by putting my name into Google. There are quite a lot of essays and stories there, and they are free, mostly.

You can also follow me on Twitter - @HoratioClare.