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Talking Location With author Piers Torday – Great Britain

22nd August 2021

#TalkingLocationWith.. Piers Torday, author of The Last Wild Trilogy and The Wild Before (the prequel to the Trilogy), set across Great Britain.

Piers TordayMy latest book, The Wild Before, is set in an imagined, idyllic English valley called Dandelion Hill, where a very brave Little Hare is trying to save a rare calf born on Old Land Farm – in the knowledge that if he doesn’t, terrible things are coming for him and his fellow creatures. The farmland is a fantasy, because it appears to be an incredible arable farm, growing every kind of crop, and also a stock farm breeding everything from cows to goats. It’s an ultimate farm, for reasons the story reveals, but as I wrote, I did imagine the farm I spent a lot of my childhood on – Nilston Rigg at Langley, in Northumberland. There are dark conifer woods, open farmland, brooks hidden in secret woods, and fabulous views from the hilltops, just my hare experiences in his story. But luckily that farm is much better run than the one in my book, and different in every other way.

The other farmland location which inspired me is the one described by John Lewis Stempel of his farm in Herefordshire, in The Running Hare: The Secret Life of Farmland. It’s a story of rejecting intensive farming practices and letting wild flowers flourish in verges, and bees, butterflies and birds roam. Herefordshire is one of the most stunning locations in the UK, with its lush green valleys and rich soil. It offered much of the precious beauty I wanted to capture in the book.

Piers Torday

The bucolic landscape of Northumberland

The Last Wild series (of which The Wild Before is the prequel) has taken me all over the UK. The series kicks off in a deserted nature sanctuary right at the tip of what is – in my dystopian fantasy universe – known only as “The Island”, and the nature reserve is known by the animals who live there as The Ring of Trees. But like many fantasy locations it is very much based on a real place – Cape Wrath, the most north westerly point in Britain. It is so remote that wildlife abounds, from eagles to deer – just as in my story. But also as in the book, it is home to an MOD firing range, and this uneasy juxtaposition inspired the framing set up for my fictional location.

Scotland has played a big part in my writing. The Last Wild is in part inspired by a childhood adventure on the tiny island of Colonsay. At eight miles long, and two miles wide, the island is small enough to walk around in a day. This is what my best friend and I did, one summer holiday decades ago, and we made some extraordinary animal friends. A lost cat followed us to a deserted beach, where we rescued a seagull with a broken wing. Then, during our picnic lunch, we met a field mouse and a rabbit, who we also scooped up. The tiny hotel was a bit surprised when two twelve year olds returned with four animals in tow, and they were all returned to their various homes – but the idea of a little boy having an adventure on an island with a convoy of animals never really left me.

Piers Torday

From Northumberland to Cape Wrath, it is clear that wide empty spaces really light up my imagination – “The Great Open” in the books- but there was one moorland in particular which I owe a great debt to. I first conceived and drafted the story whilst on an Arvon creative writing course at Ted Hughes’s old house Lumb Bank, on the moor tops of the Calder Valley, just above Hebden Bridge. My mobile had no signal, and the sunshine was bright, and it was early August. There was time for a walk between our morning tutorial and lunch. Everything had that drowsy, burnt gold wash of late summer, and I felt far away from my city life, listening only to the roar of the stream in the woods and distant birdsong. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the space, the stillness and the beauty. It was wild. And I didn’t want us to lose that, ever. So I went back to the house, opened my laptop, and started writing.

The Wild Before by Piers Torday is published on 19 August (Quercus Children’s Books, Hardback, £12.99). You can buy it on this link

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Enter the 2021TripFiction 'Sense of Place' Creative Writing Competition!

A story in which the location plays as important a role as the rest of your words.

2,500 word maximum, 750 word minimum

Judges include Victoria Hislop and Rosanna Ley

First Prize of £1,000 / US$1,350

Prizes total £1,750 / US$2,362 

Winning entry published on TripFiction site and publicised on Social Media

Entries close 6th November 2021