Can I take the white pigeon home with me? Piers Torday’s The Last Wild

I was hooked on Piers Torday’s best-selling The Last Wild before I even started reading Chapter One. And the reason? There’s a MAP before the story starts – and every great adventure book has a map. There’s a majestic stag on the Valley of Rock, a pigeon fluttering near The Ring of Trees and a Shining Leaf tree inside a sinking swamp. And then there’s the Forest of the Dead and the ominous looking Spectrum Hall… Right from the start my mind was spinning with adventures.

Map

The Last Wild is the story of a boy named Kester. Snatched from his family six years previously, Kester is locked up inside Spectrum Hall Academy for Challenging Children. Kester can understand why most of the other children have been locked inside. But he can’t work out why he is. And yet Spectrum Hall’s sinister wardens are desperate to control Kester, to make him do the one thing he cannot do: speak.

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In a world where every animal has supposedly been destroyed because of a deadly ‘red-eye’ virus, Kestrel feels more alone than ever. But when a flock of excited pigeons burst into his bedroom and start talking to him, Kester’s life changes forever. He discovers that he has a gift. Though he cannot speak to humans, he can speak to animals. And that’s just as well – because he’s The One the last animals on earth have been waiting for: the leader of the wild. But can Kester and his wild beat their way past malevolent cullers, starving outsiders and the dreaded Captain Skuldiss? Perhaps – but only if Kester listens very carefully to the stag…

stag The Last Wild boasts some of the most memorable characters in children’s books to date. There’s the Oh So Moontruggy white pigeon – some of his best quotes below…

*Kester! I don’t regret anything!*
*Here is your gift – some old sheep.*
*Not a bad-looking fat bird yourself.*

 

…and the arrogant but completely endearing and courageous wolf-cub:

wolf

*But you had better watch out for me. I will always be watching your back! No, I mean, that is… you should watch your back! That’s all I’m saying.*

 

But the wolf-cub’s not the only character with buckets of courage. When Torday writes Kester’s words ‘Watch me’ on page 279, every fibre inside you will want to leap up and charge towards Premium with Kester’s wild. It’s a fantastic book – a story of unlikely friendships, welly-wearing scrabble players, extraordinary bravery and hope against all odds. Moontrug caught up with author Piers Torday and got the low down on all things WILD.

 

MOONTRUG: Moontrug LOVED the white pigeon in The Last Wild. He’s such an original and brilliant character. How did you come up with the idea for him?

TORDAY: I wanted pigeons to be main characters in the book because I wanted to draw our attention to British animals which seem so ubiquitous and everyday but which – like the example of the passenger pigeon shows – could just as easily become extinct as any other species if we aren’t careful.  They speak as a group, and were a bit serious on their own, so to lighten things up I thought of making one a bit special. And I have always found spoonerisms, malapropisms and word confusions funny – so he just seemed to fit.

MOONTRUG: Wolf-cub is another fantastic character, partly because his arrogance is so endearing and funny and partly because his bravery is so huge. Why did you choose a wolf for this character?

TORDAY: Well, wolves used to be commonplace in Britain but apart from in sanctuaries and zoos they aren’t any longer. The last wild wolf in the UK was shot around 1776. Few animals suffer such misconceptions as the wolf, and too often in children’s books they are just scary monsters (a bit like his father, admittedly!) But in fact wolves are remarkably intelligent creatures capable of forming very deep bonds with humans and I wanted to redress the balance and show just a fraction of how incredible their behaviour can be.

MOONTRUG: Where did the name Kester come from?

TORDAY: I had a friend at school called Kester, which always struck me as unusual. When I was trying to think of a distinctive name for this character it just popped into my mind. But only the name – the character isn’t based on him!

MOONTRUG: If you could reinvent yourself as an animal what would you be and why?

TORDAY: Well I have answered this as a giant sloth before, but the more I think about it, I would say a wolf  – because they are such beautiful, graceful and intelligent animals. Unlike me.

MOONTRUG: Captain Skuldiss is terrifying. Is he based on anyone you know?!

TORDAY: No! He was inspired a bit by the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, who terrified me as a child – and as Skuldiss is the Animal Catcher, it made sense. But my paternal grandfather and great grandmother were Hungarian, they had a very distinctive way of speaking and I borrowed their voices to create him. Luckily for me, however, they were both wonderful and loving people who couldn’t be further from him in every other way.