MYTHS OF THE BRECON BEACONS – HORATIO CLARE

MYTHS OF THE BRECON BEACONS – HORATIO CLARE

 

I picked up a poet in Hebden Bridge and we set out for Hay on a blazing afternoon. Zaffar Kunial is the gentlest of men, his quiet voice a serum against the bank holiday traffic as we battered through Manchester, over the border and down into the lanes of Wales, which are busy with bullfinches. When Zaffar performs he recites from memory. Ambushed with a request to do half an hour in front of an audience which included Sir Ian McKellen, he recalled blanking, twice. And then the breakthrough, and a triumphant performance, and Sir Ian hugging him afterwards and complimenting him on his brilliance at making the audience wait. ‘Do you ever forget your lines?’ Zaffar asked him. The great knight roared ‘Of course I do, all the time. The difference between you and me is, I don’t care!

We discuss composition. Zaffar gets a line, and the shape of the poem, and writes it then and there. He does not know how the poem ends: it comes after the editing, the reworking and expansion. We both write to find out what the end will be. Zaffar’s first full collection, Us, is forthcoming from Faber.

Nervous as a ghost at an exorcism (I’m never going to remember all the dates) I take the stage with Peter Florence to perform from Myths and Legends of the Brecon Beacons, a book I thought was going to be a few short stories on a National Park website, and which grew. Sensing my nerves, Peter’s son Isaac throws a great hug around me before we go on. I made a book with Isaac years ago, when he was at school. Suddenly nothing can go wrong, and thanks these Florences, nothing does. I sign for two hours.

Later, launching my second children’s book, Aubrey and the Terrible Ladybirds, we reach the Q and A, excitement guaranteed thanks to the ever-incisive Hay children.

‘Yes, at the back?’

‘Have you ever had an idea which was really brilliant…’

OK, you think, I can do this, ‘But then when you wrote it, it was rubbish?’

Jane Matthews, the genius illustrator of Myths and Ladybirds and Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot is laughing too hard for either of us to answer.

At a Radio 3 event to launch the Sound Walk, a four-hour ‘Slow Radio’ broadcast, I look up half way through saying what a pleasure it was to yomp across the hills with a microphone, sound recordist and producer, and realise that dear faces from half my life are in the tent. There is Abigail Appleton, my first boss at the BBC, now running the Hereford College of the Arts. There is Matthew Dodd, her successor, for whom I worked for years. There is Tom Bullough, friend and incredible writer, there are Peter Florence and Becky Shaw, and Isaac. What an extended family, I think. How absolutely blessed I am.