Piers Torday talks secret poems by Roald Dahl and tips to approach a wolf

Many of you truggers out there will know that Moontrug is a BIG FAN of The Last Wild (remember Kester and his quest to save the last animals?). Well, a few weeks ago Moontrug actually got to meet the author. Yeah, you heard me – Moontrug got to meet the wonderful Piers Torday! Now, sometimes you big up people in your head and they’re a real let down in real life (I won’t mention any names but Mickey Mouse at Disney Land, I thought you were better than that…) – but Piers Torday was every bit as awesome as I expected him to be and he gave a STORMER of a talk about The Last Wild and The Dark Wild at Imagine Book Festival.

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Torday started off by talking to us all about his childhood and where the ideas for his books had come from. He grew up in Northumberland with a pet dog and a pet cat – and their house, Toad Hall, was surrounded by A LOT OF SHEEP. Torday revealed: ‘The reason our house was called Toad Hall was because it was above my mother’s book shop – Toad Hall Books.’ Torday talked about the bookshop’s link to Toad of Toad Hall in The Wind in the Willows, admitting he loved reading the book as a child. ‘Did you know The Wind in the Willows was one of the first books ever written for children? And it was the first book written about animals talking like people!’ No, Moontrug did not know this – so Torday is clever as well as cool. Impressive. And Moontrug’s relieved Kenneth Williams wrote Wind in the Willows because if he hadn’t kids would be reading boring book about the financial crisis and pension schemes. Not cool.

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But Torday was quick to tell us there’s another reason he has such fond memories of his time at Toad Hall. Roald Dahl (yes, THE Roald Dahl) visited the bookshop and after his visit he wrote to Torday, sending him a secret Oompa Loompa song that he decided not to put in the final version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – about a spoilt rich girl who is put into a peanut brittle mixer and turned into a hard sticky toffee peanut butter bar! Torday and his family eventually moved away from Toad Hall to live beside a forest. Less sheep – more hedgehogs, badgers and rabbits. But Torday kept his Northumberland sheep alive by writing a comic book called SHEEP. Sadly it didn’t sell well; perhaps because it was priced at one million pounds. Per copy.

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Torday dabbled with writing stories as a child but often didn’t see his ideas through to the end of the story. Indeed he started a detective novel but admits that the plot was flawed – there was only one sentence, the opening sentence – but what a sentence that was: ‘One day, there was a dog, and like most dogs, he was a Detective.’ So, Moontrug has an idea… She is challenging all you writers out there to finish Piers Torday’s story for him in 500 words or less. See Moontrug Competitions for details.

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Torday said that the real inspiration for his brilliant book, The Last Wild, occurred when he was on Colonsay, an island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. He was there with his family and his best friend. One morning, Torday and his best friend decided to walk round the island: ‘The first thing we found on our walk was a cat slipping out of a ruined stone cottage. We tried to usher it back to where it had come from in case its owner was near by, but the cat followed us. And then hours later, when we were walking along the beach we came across a seagull with a wounded wing. My friend picked it up and put it in his pocket, hoping we’d find a vet later. Meanwhile, the cat padded along beside us. Moments later, when we were eating our lunch-time sandwiches on a rock amidst the heather, a mouse scurried out, so I put that in my pocket, too. And then, as we made our way back to the village, we spotted a very tame rabbit. We had one more pocket spare; in the rabbit went. When we got back to the village we were the talk of the island. The seagull was treated by a vet and we returned the other animals into the wild. But something happened that day; I had an adventure – and one that was going to spark the initial idea for my first book.’

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Later in life, Torday began to think what it would be like if only a handful of animals remained in the world and they were all in terrible danger. He thought back to his journey across Colonsay with his band of animal recruits. And gradually, ideas started to form for The Last Wild. Cool to think that Torday’s ideas sprung from an actual REAL LIFE adventure… And it seems he still goes on adventures now. Just recently he had an encounter with a North American Grey Wolf, Tundra.  No wonder wolf cub in The Last Wild is such a cool character. Torday has been researching him thoroughly – and below are a few of Torday’s wolf facts:

 

1. A wolf howl can travel 10km
2. There is only a 2% genetic difference between a dog and a wolf
3. When you approach a wolf you need to ball your hand into a fist and hold it out, then you need to breathe onto the wolf’s back (and you should eat a Full English Breakfast or something really meaty before your visit because wolves will pick up your meaty smell and identify you as a fellow predator. So lay off the salad leaves and broccoli, you’re toast to a wolf with that kind of behaviour)
4. Wolves can leap 9ft into the air from a standstill position
5. A wolf’s bite is more ferocious than a grizzly bear’s or a great white shark’s!

 

It was a real delight to listen to Torday talking about his writing and Moontrug cannot wait to read The Dark Wild, out in the UK in April 2014. Why the excitement? Because Moontrug needs to find out why there is a helicopter flying towards Kester and why he can hear strange whispers below the earth… Oh, and she’s been missing the white pigeon – a lot.

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