EVENTS FEATURE Piers Torday Interview

Kate Walker interviews award winning author Piers Torday at the Chiddingstone Literary Festival ahead of his SCBWI Masterclass in October.

Piers Torday is an award winning children’s author and we are so excited about his upcoming SCBWI Masterclass Fiction Focus: Creating characters to care about. We caught up with Piers to ask him a few questions because, well, we couldn’t wait until October!

Image credit: James Betts

1. 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.

2. 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!

3. What made you choose 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.

4. 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!

5. 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.

6. Which authors inspired you as a child?

So many, but C S Lewis, Eva Ibbotson, Roald Dahl and Susan Cooper all stand out.

7. 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.

8. Are your books initially inspired by plot or character?

A mixture of both – what I really need is an idea, a territory or subject that I know can emotionally engage me and the reader for the span of a story. And I need a picture in my head of how it might begin and end.

9. Do you write for a past you or a future reader?

Always for a past me, because that is what I know and a future reader is pure speculation, but that said, if a past me ever seems to send me in a direction that seems wildly out of sync from what current and future readers might enjoy, I do my best to rein him in!

10. In October you are running a SCBWI Masterclass on creating characters, how do you begin with your own characters?

It begins a bit drily – with function. I think about what role the character needs to fulfil, such as antagonist, or what character might best bring out something in the subject matter that interest me, just as the cockroach showed (I hope) that conservation isn’t just about poster animals like lions and whales. And then I think – how has this role not been done before? How is this kind of character normally done and how can I make mine familiar and yet original? There is no point writing a character that could be in any book, or who doesn’t leap off the page. I try and do this mainly through voice, and then that hopefully leads to interesting choices and decisions.

11. 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!

Thank you very much for taking part.

Thank you for asking me and for the fascinating questions, it’s been a pleasure.

A former theatre and television producer, Piers Torday 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. He has been a guest speaker on Writers & Artists and Arvon creative writing courses.

We are lucky that Piers Torday will be hosting a SCBWI Masterclass on Saturday 21st October – FICTION FOCUS: Creating Characters to Care About
Characters are your story, but first we need to care about them. How do you write fictional characters, be they human or otherwise, that leap off the page? From story function to naming, voice to visual hallmarks, and that often problematic issue of character development, Piers will discuss different strategies for writing characters who live long in the memory after a book is finished. Children’s fiction is bursting with unforgettable heroes, villains and everything in between, but some of the precedents are different to adult fiction and this creates an opportunity for real imaginative invention. Bring existing characters who need work, or a blank space where there should be one – and some examples of your own favourite characters from children’s fiction. To book a place click here.

*Featured image credit: Kate Walker  


Kate Walker
is a feature writer for Words & Pictures. She mainly writes MG fantasy as well as dabbling in picture books whenever a character grabs her imagination. Kate lives in Kent with her two children who are addicted to stories just as much as she is.
Follow her on Twitter: @KatakusM


A. M. Dassu is a member of the Words & Pictures editorial team, she manages the Events team and SCBWI BI events coverage.
Contact her at

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