Jim Naughtie talks to the author Tim Pears about his latest novel The Horseman and the writing of a story overshadowed by the approach of World War I.
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Now its time for Meet the Author.
How much do we still live in tune with the rhythm of the seasons,
and why does that matter?
In his much admired novels, Tim Pears has consistently worked
to explore our relationship with the land, the old habits,
and inherited feeling for how nature works,
and maybe to try to rediscover an understanding that
could be slipping away.
It's one of the themes of his new book, The Horseman.
Set in the West Country before the First World War,
telling the story of an unlikely and almost forbidden relationship,
and the coming loss of innocence.
One of the most powerful elements of The Horseman is the sense
of the force of nature, the cycles of the seasons and so on,
and it's obvious that that's not a device.
Have you always been conscious of that closeness to the way,
frankly, the earth works?
I have, yes, definitely.
The Horseman is set in the West Country,
and that's where I grew up, I am a country boy.
But I left there...
Like many people, I grew up in a small village.
It wasn't for me when I was there, it wasn't where the world was.
The world was in the big cities, it was in London, it was in Europe.
You had to leave home to find it?
I had to leave home to find it, it is an old story.
And, having left home and begun to think about it some years later
and beginning to write about it and use it as a place that
I wanted to set stories in, I couldn't then go back
except in the imagination.
But what you've been able to do, I think, is to recover a feeling
for the land that has disappeared for most people.
And it's inescapable.
Because you are writing the first of a trilogy that will take us
into the First World War, that it is in part about
the disappearance of a way of life and an understanding
of country ways.
Is that what you feel?
Well, I feel that, but I also feel something else.
All the time that I was researching the book, and for the research
I read a lot of memoirs by old men written in the '60s and '70s looking
back to their Edwardian childhood, and I felt two things very strongly.
On the one hand, a kind of nostalgia for what as you say had been lost,
this closeness to the rhythm of the seasons, not just to nature
but also to the animals that they worked with.
The relationship between the ploughmen, the carters,
and the horses they worked with, which was something that is very
much the stuff of the book, and I found very interesting.
Fascinating to read about their working lives,
and then to write about.
And I felt that.
But on the other hand, equally strongly, I felt a relief
that we don't live like that, because they worked so hard, Jim.
You can see a bit of that in the story as it develops,
but what bubbles up the whole time is your feeling for the power
of the sensibility of knowing that this season will be
followed by that, the harvest will be followed by this,
the animals are doing this, the animals will now do that.
Just watching the landscape change.
And in your mature years, you still feel that, do you?
I think I feel it more strongly than ever.
And I will tell you a funny thing, just personally, which is that
I grew up with a father who was very much an intellectual,
he was a priest and his study was a book-lined room where,
after I left school at 16, I immersed myself in the canon
of Russian literature that he had on his walls, and I
went on from there.
And my mother was not at all bookish, cultural,
and although she is very much from an upper-middle-class
background, she basically, I realised, is a peasant in terms
of being very close to the seasons, and is immersed in the daily
round of nature and animals and so on, and it is very recently
I realised with a kind of obvious revelation that I am
both my parents' child, and that I am the intellectual,
but I am also the present.
-- but I am also the peasant.
It is interesting how long it takes for the penny to drop that
everyone is the child of their parents, isn't it?
It is extraordinary that you go back to your childhood,
to your learning experience, but also to the palpable feeling
for the countryside that you so much wanted to get away from.
Well, I will tell you, interesting in writing this book,
Jim, was that as I began to realise what I wanted to write about,
these two young people who both have a shared love of horses
in a different way, the boy, the son of the carter,
and a hoase whisperer in the making, and this girl who is the daughter of
the aristocrat who owns the estate.
I realised that it would only work if I could write about horses.
Well, my experience in childhood was that I had a mother
who was very keen on horses, and two sisters who had a pony each,
and I thought these were just terrifying beasts whose main aim
in life was to lure young boys and kick them if possible,
and I kept well away.
And probably I could count on the fingers of both my hands
the number of times I actually fed or groomed or rode those ponies.
So you had to do the research?
The thing was that when I came to write the book, that very
All came back.
It all came up, and there it was.
And maybe that's how it is.
You could hear the horses, you could smell them?
It's the first of a trilogy.
This one is set in 1911 before those last warm summers
after which the world fell apart for so many people.
It is going to take us right through the war, is it?
One of the things that I had to bear in mind when I was writing
it was that these people had no idea what was coming.
Of course, some people did.
The first dreadnoughts had been built.
People in the Admiralty knew something was coming,
some kind of conflict.
But they didn't quite know.
They didn't quite know.
What it was going to be like.
These people would have had no idea, and I had to keep reminding myself
writing it that I mustn't give them this shadow of the war.
It wasn't over them.
It's only with hindsight that we see it.
That was very important.
But you're right, it is the first part of a trilogy,
and it is going to carry on.
To go back finally to where we began, the sense of loss,
not just in terms of the coming war, which we know about but they didn't,
but the sense of loss in the dulling of our senses to something
in the seasons, the chapter headings are the months here,
the year rolls round.
Is that something that you think many people
are now, against the trend, trying to recover?
That more people are aware of what has been lost?
Yes, I'm sure you're right, I'm sure you're right.
But can I just say one thing that I came across in
the memoirs of these old men who worked with horses...
Of course, as we know, over a million horses were taken
to the Great War and lost there, and then after the war,
the tractor came along, and quite quickly, horses disappeared.
Farmers, being unsentimental people, took those horses to the abattoir.
And these men who went from working with these horses
to working on tractors, they lost that relationship.
They lost the hard work, but they were kind of in mourning,
and this is something that I was very touched by coming
across in these memoirs.
These men who were grieving for this lost relationship.
Tim Pears, author of The Horseman, thank you very much.