Horatio Clare took the Branford Boase Award last year (2016), for his impressive novel Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot. As the new winner for 2017 is soon to be announced, we reached out to Horatio Clare to find out what life has been like since winning the award.
Huge congratulations on last year’s Branford Boase win. Describe the moment you found out you were on the short list.
Thank you! It was a huge privilege. I had just dropped my son at school and was walking back along the canal in the rain when my editor rang. It was a lovely moment.
Did you get a lovely shiny medal?
Even better than a lovely shiny medal, you get a beautiful little wooden box inlaid with a silver butterfly. It stands on my windowsill and makes me very proud and grateful.
How has the win impacted on your year?
The win makes a huge difference. Foreign publishers picked up the book: the next twist in its story will take place in France next year. I was deluged with bookings for talks and school visits, which are still going on. Coverage in magazines, newspapers and websites meant the book reached people who would not otherwise have known about it. It was longlisted for the Carnegie, too, which I don’t think would have happened without the Branford Boase.
How long did it take you to write Aubrey and The Terrible Yoot?
I guess I finished it about a year after I began to work on it, but in that time we moved from Italy to Britain, began life in a new house, my partner and I started new jobs, and I wrote another book (Orison for a Curlew, about the search for a bird that may or may not exist), so I was doing a lot of other things besides writing Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot. It was my secret wish and pleasure. I had no contract for it and no idea if I could write children’s books.
The Branford Boase Award acknowledges the role of an editor in helping to shape a novel. How did the process work with yourself and your editor, Penny Thomas (Firefly Press)?
When I told Penny about the book she wanted it straight away. Of course then I had hopes of selling it for a million dollars to a huge publisher and spending the rest of my life in a hammock with a book. But Penny and Firefly, her publishing house, were the best things that could have happened to it. She published it with love and care, and huge effort. Our publicist, Megan Farr, also won an award for her work on it – there’s something about Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot which inspires people, for which I take no credit. It was one of those books which just wanted to come out into the world and play.
Any tips for newbie writers on how to approach the process?
My only tip for a new writer is – read, observe, keep practising. Your book will find you if you let it.
Your character Aubrey deals with the depression his father is suffering from. Was it your intention from the very beginning, to deal with such a serious topic within a children’s book?
I didn’t think of it as a book about depression: it’s an adventure story in which the monster is truly terrible, and the little hero truly heroic. I thought I would put them together to see what would happen. There is a mighty battle in it, but it’s not necessarily what you might expect, and it ends in huge hope and optimism because if there is one thing I believe in, it’s HOPE!
What’s the key point you want young readers to take away from reading about Aubrey’s journey?
There isn’t a single point to take away. Some children mainly enjoy it for the humour, others love the animals. Lots have had discussions about its ideas with their parents and teachers. One thing that I think matters very much is openness: if you are in trouble, if the Yoot is after you or anyone you know, talk about it. It is vital not to go silent. Battles are not to be fought alone: you have friends and family; talk to them as much as you can.
What’s next for you?
At the moment I am travelling to schools and festivals talking about the sequel: Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds! It is funnier than the first one, and it travels a lot. It’s about how to save the world, and what the stuff in the news about migration and immigrants is really all about. My next project is a book about a boy who loves his phone whose stepfather moves them both to a ruined castle where there is no Wi-Fi and no phone signal…
Just for fun
Tea or coffee? Tea first, then coffee.
Paper books or e-books? I am sure ebooks are very nice and I’m glad some people enjoy them but in a world where we are constantly being tempted and bullied to look at screens when you want to truly escape or really learn read a real book!
Write or type? When I write travel books I write first, then type. With children’s books I often write ideas and lines by hand, but then the work of making the book tends to be typed.
Hot or cold? I love a hot day and a cool night…
Thank you so much for your interest and your wonderful questions!