In the latest in his series of in-depth interviews with published children’s authors, Geoff Barker discusses the difficulties and the joys of the writing process with Horatio Clare, author of Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot (2015) and Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds (2017).

Geoff: Where does the seed of a story come from?

Horatio: Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot was the birth of my son Aubrey and the need to tell a story to him and about him. And also I found that I really wanted to talk about depression and it just came together in a wonderful way. There was no contract, I didn't ask anyone's permission, I didn't run it by anybody. I just wrote it, and I've never done that before. Everything I've done before has been to commission. That was the first one that was realised. 

Aubrey seemed obviously set up for a sequel. Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds isn't such a clean, straightforward book: it's a bit of a mash-up...(laughs) It's a structural failure. It was obviously Brexit and immigration, and wanting to talk about a world without borders. I wanted to have a vehicle to do that, and I feel a bit bad about using Aubrey for that vehicle in a way, but there are one or two scenes – when the animals are arguing about where they come from – and that's good, I'm proud of that, but the book's a mash. It arises fairly organically. 

What's so special about writing for you personally?

It's incredible good luck to find something that you love that you can get paid for, that's what's amazing. And I love it, now, because I bring my son Aubrey to these festivals and we have fun. He gets it. We're here to do a show. Even if there's only two people, we're here to do a show. It's being part of it.

And, for travel, you can take people. I took them all to Tanzania for the Financial Times. I made a thumping loss on it, but we paid about three grand for a thirty grand holiday, and those sorts of things you don't think of at all when you start, but they are great. You earn it, because it's feast and famine, and there are times when it's the most useless job in the world. I have a decent brain and I'm quite good at organising, I was a good producer... and then I look at my friends, who are doing incredible stuff, and they all live in million-pound houses, and we are just not in that world... maybe I should never have left the Beeb [BBC]... but I'm glad I did!

In your writing so far, what are you most proud of?

Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot. It matters because it was the first time I felt like I'd brought off a work of art. Nonfiction doesn't feel very difficult in comparison: a chronology will emerge, and you'll get a structure (especially if it's travel – it's a journey). It's not hard, really. The hard thing is thinking up at what angle you're going to cut the world, and what line you're going to take or follow. The triumph of A Single Swallow was the idea. The book's a failure compared to the idea. I'm proud of Running for the Hills because I was relatively so young and inexperienced [written in his late twenties]. Obviously it suffers from a lot of first-book defects, but it gets there, and by the end it's pretty good. I didn't think I would top that, but Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot was the first time I thought of myself as a writer.

Coming soon on Geoff Barker's website the mind bloggles the full interview with Horatio Clare, answering these questions and more:

For your children's writing, is there anything that you find difficult?
What's the best piece of writing advice that you've been able to use?

What are your expectations of yourself as a writer now?

Header image: Photo of chimpanzee (ca 1906) from Wikimedia Commons
original by New York Zoological Society at Library of Congress, USA

Horatio Clare is a Welsh-British author, writing memoirs, travel books, and more recently children's books. He worked at the BBC as a producer and has received many awards and honours for his books. A memoir of his childhood on a sheep farm in West Wales, Running for the Hills (2006), was nominated for the Guardian First Book Award, and received a Somerset Maugham Award. His first children's book, Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot, was published in 2015, and won the Branford Boase Award for Debut Children's Book of the Year in 2016.

Twitter: @HoratioClare
Publisher: Firefly Press

Geoff may have written over 50 published nonfiction titles, but what he really loves to do is to create children's stories... once upon a time written for his long-suffering kids, but now for anyone who thinks funny, quirky animal stories are essential for a long and happy life. He is currently working on something completely different: The Scare Crowd, a creepy folk-horror tale he's written to cause children sleepless nights. This won the 2018 July Words and Pictures Slushpile Challenge.

He is a Consultant Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund.

Geoff Barker thanks the generosity of those authors who have given their time to eloquently express their thoughts about their work, providing fascinating insights into the creative experience. 

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