As promised, here is the next bit of the booty collected form last weekend’s Beanstalk Bookfest 2016 in London. And today’s treasure: Piers Torday, author of The Last Wild trilogy & his brand-new book There May Be a Castle.
To hear an account of Piers Today’s childhood, one would think “that kid was destined to be children’s writer!” And yet, the road to best-selling children’s author was not exactly straight-forward.
Piers told us (me in addition to a room full of adoring children) about growing up in Northumberland, a place that might be called “the last wild” for its ratio of animals (particularly sheep) to humans. His childhood home, “Toad Hall” resided above his mother’s children’s bookshop (by the same name) where Piers grew up lending a helping hand & getting his first dose of the classics: Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh, Roald Dahl & the like.
And speaking of Roald Dahl, Fate came to visit Toad Hall one day in the form of that renowned author himself! Following up his visit, he sent little Piers a letter that would come to play a key role in his road to writer. The letter contained a little secret: the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had in fact had an additional character, Mary Piker, with her own Oompa Loompa verse and all! So nasty was this Mary Piker, Mr. Dahl’s children insisted he chuck her out for the benefit of the whole story. And so he did!
That letter resurfaced many years later to teach Piers a valuable lesson about writing… but we’ll come to that presently.
Piers’s family eventually left Toad Hall for a house near the forest where Piers was inflicted with what he described as the “medieval form of torture called ‘making your own entertainment'”. And, of course, one outlet for self-made entertainment was story-writing!
His story began on an excellent foot: ‘One day, there was a dog, and like most dogs, he was a Detective.’ But then something happened to bring the whole enterprise to a screeching halt. Peirs had a visit from what I like to call the Horrible Whatiffer! And that mean old bogyman whispered things like “what if your story is stupid?”, & “what if you read it out at school and the other children laugh, and the teacher gives you bad marks, and your parents rue having such an unliterary boy for a son,” and onward down the spiral to despair.
And so the story remains, to this day, unfinished… at least by Piers.
But on down the road, after many a year of school, exams, more school & more exams, & that tricky thing of trying to sort out what to do when one grows up, Piers came home & rediscovered that old letter penned by Mr. Dahl. And as Piers describes it, several lightbulbs went off.
First, he realised that writing children’s books was the very thing he wanted to do with his life. And second, even a giant of children’s literature like Roald Dahl didn’t always get it right the first time. But he didn’t stop because it wasn’t good enough. Even Roald Dahl had to accept criticism from his own children in order to get better…
And at the moment, Piers battled the Horrible Whatiffer at long last and won! Now he advises a much more positive use for ‘What if’:
To turn something real life into a magical story ask this simple, two-word question: What if…?
That question has served Piers well ever since, leading him to some of the most imaginative story ideas, well… imaginable!
But as brilliant as his fiction stories are, I found his real, true-life story the most incredible, the most inspiring. The moral of the story? In Piers’s own tried-&-true words:
My #1 advice: Just keep going. No matter how silly it is, get to the end. Until you get to the end, you won’t know what was good or bad about your story.
So whether you’re Roald Dahl, Piers Torday himself, or among the many Novel in November writers confronting your own Horrible Whatiffers each day you write, take it from a best-selling author: JUST KEEP GOING!