On Monday, Piers came to Nidderdale to give a few talks about how he became an author, his bestselling (and award-winning!) trilogy ‘The Last Wild’ and how his love of wildlife lured him away from the world of TV to write adventure stories with an environmental twist.
Piers will be talking at NiddFest on July 25, 10.30-11.30am at the Memorial Hall, Pateley Bridge.
We asked each of our festival authors to complete an identical Q and A. Here are Piers’ responses….
1. What inspired you to write your latest book?
So many observations and reactions to the natural world over a long period of time, beginning with recalling early childhood adventures in a wildlife strewn British countryside that now no longer exists in the same form, but the most recent book The Wild Beyond is driven by a single stark fact. Last year the World Wildlife Fund released a report confirming many’s worst fears: that over the last forty years, we have lost 50% of our wildlife. The human footprint is transforming our ecosystem, taking us and the 2.5 million species we share this planet with into new and uncharted waters. The future is uncertain, but it is our children who will have to deal with it, so I wanted to write a story of challenges and hope to inspire them as they face a new world.
2. What is the relationship between your writing and the natural world?
It’s very unscientific, and it’s absolutely not grounded in the kind of deep knowledge of nature that a children’s writer like T H White or B B Gray once had, or today you might find in Nicola Davies or Tom Moorhouse’s work. Instead, I write about my instinctive imaginative and spiritual response to landscape and wildlife, the stories that I feel lie beneath the earth or behind the eyes – and then I back research, making factual corrections where I need to.
3. Do you have a favourite passage of ‘nature writing’ (in the broadest sense) from your own work?
At the beginning of THE WILD BEYOND, the last blue whale left alive in the world comes to Kester Jaynes, the hero of the books with a call for help as the world faces self-destruction. I wanted the whale’s speech to be as ethereal and mysterious as whale song itself, so I borrowed from Anglo Saxon poems like The Seafarer. Here she is, telling her own whale version of the creation myth:
“Once, before time itself, there was a great-fish who wandered-wide in the wet. Now this great- fish was good, but she also lone-swam. So she started to sing a song. It was a deep-music, deep enough to call all that is into being. She sang everything into life: from the belly-feeders who lived on her body to the giant-sharks who tried to feed on her head. But she was too clever and tough for them. She sang the creatures of the great-wet, all the fishes that ever were and the bug-eyed crawlers who slithered in the shadows. She sang the float-jellies, the sea-weeds and the krill shoals she grazed on. And she sang the air-flies who buzzed overhead, the white- feathers screaming high in the sky. Her music went beyond the wet, singing the dry-weeds that greened the earth, the land-giants curling their trunks, the hover- wings humming over pretty petals. For as many days as there are bright-dots in the night sky, the creatures in the wet and on the dry lived together in peace. Apart from one. A beast who grew to live alone, who did not want to share the world . . .”
(No prizes for guessing who that creature is!)
4. Do you have a favourite author whose work celebrates nature, or piece of writing about the natural world?
I adore the way Robert Macfarlane blends history, science, anthropology, philosophy and memoir – amongst other disciplines – in multi textured books like The Old Ways. The fact he’s an exquisite stylist helps too. Will Fiennes also wrote a beautiful book about the migration of snow geese, which haunted me for a very long time.
5. Do you have a favourite wild place or natural landscape? (What? Do you mean it’s not the Yorkshire Dales?!!)
Well, I spent my honeymoon in Nidderdale, so not far off…. But it would have to be the bleak but spectacular moors around Hadrian’s Wall or the soft river banks and pools of the South Tyne.
6. What is your earliest or fondest memory of being out in nature?
My Dad taking us for a walk and convincing me that a Dryad lived in a hollow tree, or that a dragon was sleeping under a huge hollow full of beech leaves.
7. Do you ever write outside?
I have read a lot outside, and take the odd note, but as I write on a laptop, the combination of screen glare and battery life don’t favour outdoor writing. My loss.
8. What are you working on at the moment?
A new standalone story for Christmas 2016 – very different to The Last Wild, but landscape and the imagination are central to it once more.
9. What are your three ‘desert island’ reads and why?
THE SWORD AND THE STONE – T H White. Would cheer you up no matter what.
WAR AND PEACE – Still haven’t finished it yet, and I would have no excuse this time.
GILBERT WHITE’S NATURAL HISTORY.. Another still to read, but I imagine would happily conjure up an England long lost to all of us, but one especially far from my island….