Clare Balding gave an immensely positive and amusing talk to the crowd on Saturday in the Book Marquee, reports Sian Kissock.
She started by introducing her first children’s book The Horse That Wouldn’t Gallop, enthusiastically discussing meeting the book’s illustrator Tony Ross for the first time earlier in the day. He had free rein with his work, bar the heroine of the novel, who Clare had already envisioned.
She was adamant that Charlie Bass would be depicted in a certain way: “[She] had to have short hair because hardly any girls these days have short hair… One of the themes in the book is that she has very powerful legs…it is very important to me that she is not very tiny and stick thin.”
Clare also addressed the importance of other notable figures, particularly in the world of sport, and how gender should not restrict hobbies and passions. “I think one of the biggest mistakes we make in life is we make these decisions such as if ‘you cannot do ballet if you are a boy’ and ‘you can’t do boxing if you are a girl’. All that does is limit us in what we can do. Don’t ever think you can’t do something just because you are a girl or just because you are a boy!”
The audience asked Clare some questions about her new book, plus she offered a few tips for those who want to be either an author or a jockey.
Who is your favourite character in The Horse That Wouldn’t Gallop?
Charlie is great, but I am very fond of Joe and in the next book Joe has some pretty difficult decisions to make. They will all come back in the next book, with the addition of some extra characters. There’s a new character called Granny Pam in the next book and there’s also Polly. In the third book there is going to be even more!
Was Noble Warrior based on one of your horses?
My father did train a sprinter named Lochsong, and she used to run over the shortest distances, which in racing is 5 furlongs. Some days she definitely didn’t feel like it and she got more and more difficult as she got older. She was the best sprinter in the world and at home she wouldn’t go on the gallops unless my dad went with her. The idea of a racehorse who doesn’t want to be a racehorse is based on truth and there are horses like that. A good trainer needs to find the key to them.
Which character do you think you are most like?
Charlie is probably the child I wish I had been. She is based loosely on my niece Flora. [Charlie] has lots of qualities that I really admire. I don’t necessarily have them myself but would want them. She is very good at trying to get the best out of other people.
How long did it take to write the book?
Publishers give you deadlines, so they know you won’t write it until the day before you hand it in. When you have 35,000 words to write you can’t do that the day before! I would give myself mini deadlines within that. In the end I don’t know how many days… but at least a month of constant days and a lot more on top of that.
What made you want to write a children’s book?
I love telling stories. I’ve got my nephews and my niece and I wanted to write something they would enjoy reading. If you’re writing for children you are going to get really honest feedback and nobody is going to pretend it is good if it is not good, and I like that as a challenge. You have got to keep the plot fast moving and you have got to create characters people feel are real and give them scenarios they aren’t necessarily familiar with to teach them something. I just thought it would be a really fun thing to do.
Why aren’t there more female jockeys?
There are lots of female event riders, showjumpers and dressage riders. It’s a really weird thing in life, but as soon as people have to pay someone to do something, they’d rather pay a man than a woman. That is my theory in racing and one that I am hoping to change. There are a couple of really good female jockeys at the moment. I think it is a lack of being able to break through in the professional ranks, but it will change – because it is certainly not about ability and it is not about weight either, because generally speaking girls are lighter than boys. It is a great career and if you want to do it you should definitely go and try and work in a racing yard.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an author when they’re older?
I would say start writing stories now and start thinking about the things that you really care about. Finding an idea or a character that you feel you could tell that story. It depends whether animals are your thing or music or art or food. Anything can come alive in a book and it is thinking of that, sitting down and writing it and being brave enough to let someone else read it – and not being afraid to rewrite, as the rewrite is the most important.