Tim Pears Meet the Author


Tim Pears

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.

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How much do we still live in tune with the rhythm of the seasons,

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and why does that matter?

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In his much admired novels, Tim Pears has consistently worked

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to explore our relationship with the land, the old habits,

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and inherited feeling for how nature works,

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and maybe to try to rediscover an understanding that

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could be slipping away.

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It's one of the themes of his new book, The Horseman.

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Set in the West Country before the First World War,

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telling the story of an unlikely and almost forbidden relationship,

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and the coming loss of innocence.

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Welcome.

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One of the most powerful elements of The Horseman is the sense

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of the force of nature, the cycles of the seasons and so on,

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and it's obvious that that's not a device.

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Have you always been conscious of that closeness to the way,

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frankly, the earth works?

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I have, yes, definitely.

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The Horseman is set in the West Country,

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and that's where I grew up, I am a country boy.

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But I left there...

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Like many people, I grew up in a small village.

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It wasn't for me when I was there, it wasn't where the world was.

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The world was in the big cities, it was in London, it was in Europe.

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You had to leave home to find it?

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I had to leave home to find it, it is an old story.

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And, having left home and begun to think about it some years later

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and beginning to write about it and use it as a place that

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I wanted to set stories in, I couldn't then go back

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except in the imagination.

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But what you've been able to do, I think, is to recover a feeling

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for the land that has disappeared for most people.

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And it's inescapable.

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Because you are writing the first of a trilogy that will take us

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into the First World War, that it is in part about

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the disappearance of a way of life and an understanding

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of country ways.

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Is that what you feel?

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Well, I feel that, but I also feel something else.

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All the time that I was researching the book, and for the research

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I read a lot of memoirs by old men written in the '60s and '70s looking

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back to their Edwardian childhood, and I felt two things very strongly.

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On the one hand, a kind of nostalgia for what as you say had been lost,

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this closeness to the rhythm of the seasons, not just to nature

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but also to the animals that they worked with.

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The relationship between the ploughmen, the carters,

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and the horses they worked with, which was something that is very

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much the stuff of the book, and I found very interesting.

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Fascinating to read about their working lives,

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and then to write about.

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And I felt that.

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But on the other hand, equally strongly, I felt a relief

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that we don't live like that, because they worked so hard, Jim.

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You can see a bit of that in the story as it develops,

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but what bubbles up the whole time is your feeling for the power

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of the sensibility of knowing that this season will be

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followed by that, the harvest will be followed by this,

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the animals are doing this, the animals will now do that.

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Just watching the landscape change.

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And in your mature years, you still feel that, do you?

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I think I feel it more strongly than ever.

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And I will tell you a funny thing, just personally, which is that

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I grew up with a father who was very much an intellectual,

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he was a priest and his study was a book-lined room where,

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after I left school at 16, I immersed myself in the canon

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of Russian literature that he had on his walls, and I

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went on from there.

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And my mother was not at all bookish, cultural,

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and although she is very much from an upper-middle-class

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background, she basically, I realised, is a peasant in terms

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of being very close to the seasons, and is immersed in the daily

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round of nature and animals and so on, and it is very recently

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I realised with a kind of obvious revelation that I am

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both my parents' child, and that I am the intellectual,

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but I am also the present.

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-- but I am also the peasant.

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It is interesting how long it takes for the penny to drop that

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everyone is the child of their parents, isn't it?

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It is extraordinary that you go back to your childhood,

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to your learning experience, but also to the palpable feeling

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for the countryside that you so much wanted to get away from.

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Well, I will tell you, interesting in writing this book,

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Jim, was that as I began to realise what I wanted to write about,

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these two young people who both have a shared love of horses

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in a different way, the boy, the son of the carter,

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and a hoase whisperer in the making, and this girl who is the daughter of

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the aristocrat who owns the estate.

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I realised that it would only work if I could write about horses.

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Well, my experience in childhood was that I had a mother

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who was very keen on horses, and two sisters who had a pony each,

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and I thought these were just terrifying beasts whose main aim

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in life was to lure young boys and kick them if possible,

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and I kept well away.

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And probably I could count on the fingers of both my hands

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the number of times I actually fed or groomed or rode those ponies.

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So you had to do the research?

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No.

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The thing was that when I came to write the book, that very

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limited experience...

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All came back.

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It all came up, and there it was.

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And maybe that's how it is.

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You could hear the horses, you could smell them?

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Yes, exactly.

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It's the first of a trilogy.

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This one is set in 1911 before those last warm summers

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after which the world fell apart for so many people.

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It is going to take us right through the war, is it?

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One of the things that I had to bear in mind when I was writing

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it was that these people had no idea what was coming.

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Of course, some people did.

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The first dreadnoughts had been built.

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People in the Admiralty knew something was coming,

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some kind of conflict.

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But they didn't quite know.

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They didn't quite know.

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What it was going to be like.

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No.

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These people would have had no idea, and I had to keep reminding myself

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writing it that I mustn't give them this shadow of the war.

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It wasn't over them.

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It's only with hindsight that we see it.

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That was very important.

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But you're right, it is the first part of a trilogy,

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and it is going to carry on.

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To go back finally to where we began, the sense of loss,

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not just in terms of the coming war, which we know about but they didn't,

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but the sense of loss in the dulling of our senses to something

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in the seasons, the chapter headings are the months here,

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the year rolls round.

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Is that something that you think many people

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are now, against the trend, trying to recover?

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That more people are aware of what has been lost?

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Yes, I'm sure you're right, I'm sure you're right.

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But can I just say one thing that I came across in

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the memoirs of these old men who worked with horses...

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Of course, as we know, over a million horses were taken

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to the Great War and lost there, and then after the war,

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the tractor came along, and quite quickly, horses disappeared.

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Farmers, being unsentimental people, took those horses to the abattoir.

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And these men who went from working with these horses

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to working on tractors, they lost that relationship.

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They lost the hard work, but they were kind of in mourning,

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and this is something that I was very touched by coming

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across in these memoirs.

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These men who were grieving for this lost relationship.

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Tim Pears, author of The Horseman, thank you very much.

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