#BathKidsLitFest Day 6: Read everything and Write everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s reading a phone book or writing an email. The more you do it, the better you’ll be at both
Animal Stories with Piers Torday and Erin Hunter (Victoria Holmes)
I first read Erin Hunter’s Into the Wild when I was about 9 years old. At that point, I had turned away from reading altogether, not being interested in anything that wasn’t my beloved Magic Tree House books (a very popular American series at the time). I had received the first Warriors book for Christmas that year and hadn’t looked at it since ripping off the wrapping paper. My mother persistently insisted that I give it a read, and eventually I gave in. The Warriors series follows Rusty, a house cat who wanders into the forest and joins one of the four clans of wild cats. The series now has 70 books with up to 490 characters. I’ve read at least 20 of them, and I thought that was a lot! Erin Hunter, the pen name of Victoria Holmes and her assisting writers, turns out more books in a year than many authors do in a life time. Her publishers came to her one day and asked if she could write about cats. Ironically, Victoria hated cats. So what she did instead was write about what she found interesting; death, religion, politics, and romance. She explained that using cats, or any animal for that matter, is a great way to talk about bigger issues without estranging the reader. Cats grow up much faster than humans do, and therefore experience life much faster as well. It gives the characters a dimensionality that is limited when writing through the eyes of a 12 year old. In my experience with her books, I’d have to say she’s 100% right. I not only appreciated reading about more adult themes, but it helped me grow up into a more aware person. Yes, a bunch of cats helped me understand the inner workings of politics and the importance of honor and loyalty.
Then there’s Piers Torday and his books The Last Wild. A former stage and television producer, his trilogy about a post-apocalyptic world with very few animals remaining originally was pitched to be a sitcom. As he sat and mulled the idea over more, he realized that what he really wanted to write about was animals no longer having a voice. Therefore, the main character Kester gives voice to these animals in his ability to understand them. Piers said that people have an endless fascination with animals, and therefore they make great vessels for new ways of telling a story. He writes his books in present tense first person, a risky choice to make. But he explained that it’s because the animals are experiencing everything presently, not in the past, therefore he had to write the way they thought. It creates an immediacy and immersion that he particularly enjoys.
Where the two contrast is in their methods. Piers writes whatever comes to him and follows it where ever it takes him. Victoria has everything planned out. She has to, particularly when she’s handing the reins to another writer. Where Victoria has written too many books to count, Piers has written only the three in his trilogy. But what they both agreed on was how the worlds they build eventually start to do the writing for them. The larger the world becomes, the more stories and characters pop up out the woodwork. And they both shared the same bit of advice: Read everything and Write everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s reading a phone book or writing an email. The more you do it, the better you’ll be at both. I have to say I agree. While I haven’t ready The Last Wild trilogy, I can say that reading Warriors has affected me and my family very deeply. It gave me the creative faculty to come up with stories of my own and pursue a degree in Creative Writing.
After reading either of these authors, the next time you almost step on a pigeon or see a cat dart across an alley you’ll stop and wonder what sort of world they’re truly living in.
Bath Festivals Intern
Piers Torday and Erin Hunter appeared at The Telegraph Bath Children’s Literature Festival on Sunday 27 September. The Festival continues until Sunday 4 October for the full programme click here.
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