interview by Kerrie Anne
I often will praise a book, admire an author's talent and find myself immersed in a tale one way or another. Rarely do I find myself lost in a fictitious world such as the one found in Kate's latest book, The White Horse Trick. It is hard to know where to begin. Is it a fairy tale? Well yes. An eye opening story as to the possible future given the effects of climate change? Most definitely, but the White Horse Trick is more than either of these two descriptions. It is to my mind a journey encompassing both. Kate takes the reader through vivid landscapes ravaged by the effects of climate change, wild storms, years of drought, rising oceans, soil erosion. She then leads you through the land of the Fairies, a kind of Utopia. Bright colours and calmness surround you as you read.
The contrast could not be anymore striking.
A merger of Mythology and possible fact. I rarely find myself in such a place inspired and confronted, bewildered and yet with a sense of purpose. This is such a book.
It is difficult as you read to dismiss the story as a fictitious world for Pup, Jenny and humanity on a whole as mere supposition, yet many will. The world Kate describes is one full of clarity, you can almost feel the sun on your skin, hear the wind howling and the rain torrenting down. The strength of the story's message is balanced perfectly with the personalities of each character from the greedy warlord, his brother, the people whose world is crumpling around them to the apparent carefree nature of the fairies.
Kate's passion throughout the book is evident. Her love of the characters and drive to tell, educate and inspire others carries you along a path of waiting, of wanting the world to be saved, of needing to know someone can fix the mess we have made.
A wonderful merger of one possible future and that of myth and legend. One which I would hope every person who loves a great book and has a conscience will pick up, read and share.
The White Horse Trick should be on every school reading list, every young adult and adult for that matter.
Kate's other novels can be found here Kate Thompson.info - Official Website Of Children's Fiction Author Kate Thompson
You have said you fell in love with India. What was it that captivated you about the country?
A vibrancy and immediacy about every-day life. Returning from India was like stepping out of a coloured world and into a black-and-white one.
Each novel I pick has its base in one or more controversial topics:Genetic Engineering, Extraterrestrial Life, Alchemy and Climate Change. How influential was your families interest and involvement in areas such as the anti-nuclear movement as you were growing up?
I suppose it’s impossible to be sure about exactly how much any given set of circumstances has influenced anyone. But it seems very likely that growing up in a politically and socially aware household has left its mark.
What inspired you to write your first novel Switchers?
I had published a book of poetry and was working on a novel for adults, when I met an Australian writer, Isobelle Carmody, who writes mainly for young adults. We hit it off and became good friends, and I read one of her books and enjoyed it. I had never considered writing for children before that, but it made me realise how well the medium suited my wild imagination. Switchers was born very soon afterwards.
Throughout your writing your passion for the given subject is obvious as well as refreshing. What is it that drives you to be so passionate about topics such as Global Warming?
I can’t say, exactly. But once I’m interested in a subject I have to turn it inside out, examine it, ingest it, then make something out of it. Where global warming is concerned, what surprises me is how few people are really genuinely concerned about it. Or perhaps they are, but feel dis empowered. Most developed countries have stagnant politics, entirely governed by an impossible concept, which is constant growth. It doesn’t take much brain power to see that the planet can’t support this as a fundamental principle, but where we are going to find a sensible alternative politics is not clear. The status quo is very powerful.
In Ireland, the second hurricane set in. It was closely followed by third, but by then there was hardly anyone left alive to see it. Between the storms the scorching sun beat down. It melted the last of the Greenland ice and the seas rose even higher, inundating coastal areas all around the world. In South Africa and Indonesia, horrendous droughts finally put an end to the last of the rain forests, and lightning strikes set them ablaze. The smoke from them shrouded half the planet.
You said in your recent article Writers Block for The View from Here, ‘The White Horse Trick is my nineteenth book in twelve years, and I am suddenly empty. Burned out. I am all out of fascination, all out of righteous indignation about political and social problems, all out of drive and fixations. I am, for once in my life, devoid of passion.’ Is this a shift in your perception of the world around us or reprioritizing of life, the universe and everything in between?
I don’t know. Passions and obsessions can’t be turned on and off at will. I see it as something that is just happening, and over which I don’t have much control. Maybe it’s just my age.
What is it about Irish Folk Music which captures the imagination so readily?
Read The New Policeman and find out!
I love your use of Irish Folklore and mythology within the story. So many people have grown up with stories of the Puca, Aengus and the land of Tir na n'Og. How did you research Fairies, The Dagda stories and characters?
Most of the research was done long ago. I didn’t consider it research at the time – I just loved reading the old myths and legends. Lady Gregory’s collections were very influential, as was James Stevens. When I came to write the New Policeman, I revisited some of the stories, to reacquaint myself with them, and enjoyed them just as much second time round.
The weather patterns had changed. Ireland had always had a wet and windy climate, but over the past few decades the storms had increased in frequency and severity, and now, throughout the whole region, the soil was being washed away; swept into streams and rivers and carried out to sea.
Your descriptions of the quick time and effects of Climate Change through Ireland sent shivers down my spine. It causes you to think and take stock of the things which are important and how each of us has contributed to these changes. What do you hope readers will take away when they finish reading?
It was a bit of a juggling act. The book is essentially for children, so my intention wasn’t to either blame them or terrify them. But I would hope that a lot of the content will provoke thought, not only about the possible consequences, but about our way of life and our addiction to acquisition.
As I read The White Horse Trick it was very easy to visualise the scenes faced by the people surviving. Aidan’s Fort, the Terraces, the inundated landscape of Kinvara and Ireland as Aengus flies overhead. How did you discover such places and where did you find the inspiration for them?
I’ve lived in this area for fifteen years now and have spent a lot of time tramping around in the Burren. The place where Aidan’s castle is situated is near here, and I’m often up there. I have probably made a few subtle alterations to the landscape to fit the story, but essentially it’s all on my doorstep.
Do you feel Climate Change the greatest challenge facing us?
In short, yes. If I were to take a bit longer, I might go into detail about the erroneous belief that many of us have; that owning more things and better things and bigger things is going to make us happy. And about the disconnect with the natural world that is possibly the cause of our unhappiness. And about the manipulative practices of money-lenders and multinational companies which drive us out to the shopping centres to fill their pockets, while they wreak havoc with the environment and create political instability across the globe.
Tir na n’Og tended to have a narcotic effect on everyone who entered it. The peace and the sunshine and the absence of time relaxed people and took away their anxieties, and a lot of their memories as well.
My favourite characters would have to be Pup and Jenny. Pup for his strength of character and perseverance. Jenny for her patience. Did you model their personalities on any person in particular?
No. All my characters are entirely fictitious, with the exception of Ann Korff, whose presence in the series is explained at the beginning of The New Policeman.
Throughout the story the plight of the human race is evident. How hard was it to write given the current debates and lack of action?
Given the lack of action, it was quite easy to write. I did a lot of reading during my residence in Bristol, and some of the forecasts are truly terrifying. The problem is that no one really knows exactly what will happen, but a lot of scientists are predicting that most prior estimates of the rate of change are far too conservative. So I felt I had license to create a world, not too far into the future, where very radical changes has already happened.
And then, as it had done countless times throughout its long, long history, the Earth began to warm up again. The Puca watched patiently for the first signs of life. It began with tiny organisms that had hibernated deep beneath the sea’s icy crust. In the warming waters, they started to multiply, mutate and evolve. Once the basic building work had been done, the Puca came into his element. Seaweed was thrown up on to the beaches and mutated into rudimentary land plants. With a bit of help from the Goat God, these became grasses and legumes, then shrubs and trees, and they marched inland as the ice receded and established themselves into forests and tundras, covering every landmass with a thick fur of vegetation.
As the White Horse Tricks ends parallels can be drawn as Creationism merges with Evolution encompassing the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. What made you decide to take this road rather than one which was devoid of any religious connotations?
The link with creationism is pretty tenuous. I doubt many creationists would endorse or celebrate the ending of The White Horse Trick. Throughout the series I’ve played with the idea of a parallel, timeless world, and I love the way in which so much of human mythology, whatever its source, could theoretically tie in with the concept.
Were you tempted to have Aidan face another fate than the one which befalls him?
No. I can’t think of a worse one.
How do you approach writing a novel?
I let it gestate for a long time before I begin writing. Then I write a first draft all in one go, longhand, from beginning to end. Flat out. If I have time I let that rest for a few months before returning to type it up, revising as I go.
What would you say is the best and worst aspects of being a published author?
The best aspects are being your own boss and creating your own work schedule. The process itself can be pretty brilliant as well – the high of creative energy. The worst aspects are loneliness, post-book blues, and lack of job security.
Any advice for budding authors and where should they start?
Be original. Write what you want to write and not what you think publishers might want to publish. Youthful budding authors should start by getting a life. The more experience a person has and the more thinking they do about their experience, the more they will have to offer in terms of their writing. Go out and live, have adventures, explore things and ideas no one has explored before, then come back and tell us all about them. Older authors, provided they have done all that, just need to sit down and get on with it. Ideas and intentions are worthless without hard graft.
How important is it to have something to say when telling a story?
For me it’s pretty important. I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I’m reading I like to be stimulated as well as entertained.
Whilst you’re taking a break from writing and a little well earned R&R. Where to from here for Kate Thompson?
Who knows? I don’t…