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Interview of Tom Moorhouse
A la Une
auteur Tom Moorhouse
Pour les6 à 11 ans

L’interview en VO de l’auteur du Chant de la Grande rivière paru chez Hélium.

Mes Premières Lectures : First of all, could you introduce yourself to the readers of Mes Premières Lectures ?

Tom Moorhouse : Hello, my name is Tom. I live in Oxford where I enjoy the perpetual and refreshing rain. At the moment I seem to have two jobs, one as an ecologist and now one an author.

This is amazing and wonderful but does mean that I spend a lot of my life in front of a computer screen. I’ve just published my first novel, The River Singers, in English and, amazingly, it has been translated into French and (soon) German. The French version looks lovely and is called Le Chant de la Grande Riviere (excuse the lack of accents – my French is rusty to say the least).



Mes Premières Lectures :
Why write a story about water voles ? Is your story linked in any way to your current researches and your other scientific publications ?

Tom Moorhouse : When I started writing I actually never really intended to write a book about animals. I was an ecologist and wanted to be a writer, but the sort of stories I wrote never had animals in them. It took a very wonderful publishing-type lady to sit me down and point out that I had a lot of knowledge that I wasn’t using, and that she was sure people would want to read an animal adventure book. And as soon as the idea took root I knew that the story had to be about water voles. They were a perfect fit : I had spent eight years studying them in the places they live and I knew that their lives are full of danger and beauty.

It’s this balance of lyrical riverside and heart-thumping danger that I tried to capture in my novel. So while I was very careful not to let my research enter too deeply into the writing (because story is sacrosanct - it’s ultimately why people read, and so the first job is to make the story wonderful and then see if the scientific facts can fit), I think I succeeded in writing what I like to call an “ecologists’ adventure” : it’s as biologically accurate as I could make it, while still being a fun and exciting story.


Mes Premières Lectures : For which specific part of the plot has your knowledge of the water voles been useful ?

Tom Moorhouse : The knowledge was useful for the broad outline of the plot : four young water voles are attacked by a terrible new predator (the mink) and have to find a new home. But far more importantly I had a deep knowledge of all the details that are needed to bring the characters and the situations to life.

Knowing that the plants a gold-green in the sun, but dark and cool below ; knowing that female water voles don’t like each other, but have a system to prevent conflict ; knowing that it takes only 40 days for a water vole to become mature after birth ; knowing that every predator out there hunts water voles, but still the voles seem mostly happy and relaxed - these are the types of details I tried to weave into the story.


These things make the Great River and the characters “real”. My aim was that by the end of the book the reader would not only have enjoyed an adventure story but also learned about what the world looks, sounds and feels like to a water vole.


Mes Premières Lectures : How many other adventures have you planned out for Sylvan and his family ?

Tom Moorhouse : Well, I’ve already finished the sequel. It’s called The Rising and charts the progress of Sylvan and some of the family in the Wetted Land (some characters don’t return, and I also introduce a few new relatives). And that, sadly, might be as far as I can go with water vole as characters. I’d need to be very sure that there was an excellent story to be told before I wrote more about them and at the moment I can’t quite envisage what that story would be about. But you never know !


Mes Premières Lectures : Your novel could be categorised as animal fantasy. Have you ever read books from that literary genre before ?

Tom Moorhouse : “Animal fantasy” is an interesting expression and not one I’ve come across before.

I think the British often regard fantasy books and animal books as being two different genres. We have a long tradition of animal stories that go right to the heart of our national identity. Watership Down and The Wind in the Willows are the prime examples of this : the characters are rabbits in the first instance and a collection of badgers, moles, water voles, toads and weasels in the second, but all absolutely embody British values and stereotypes.


By contrast we tend to think of fantasy as being a less traditional phenomenon (and full of wizards and goblins etc), and something about conflating the two doesn’t quite sit right with our sensibilities.

I can see, however, that there is a distinction to be made between the Redwall (Brian Jacques) approach where the animals are pretty human and wear armour and wave swords around (which sounds like “animal fantasy”) to me, and the Watership Down approach, where the animals are more limited in what they can and cannot do (because they have to act like rabbits), and which is more traditional. So for me I might be tempted to say that the characters in The River Singers are more towards the traditional animal story end of the spectrum : they behave like water voles wherever possible. So the answer to your question is yes, absolutely, but we still need a debate about the definition of that genre !


Mes Premières Lectures : Have you read other animal fantasy books and could you tell us about them ?

Tom Moorhouse : Ah…I think I just did.


Mes Premières Lectures : Would you like to write other stories of the same kind but involving different animals as main characters ?

Tom Moorhouse : For me it isn’t important that I’m writing about animals per se. What’s important to me is that there is a strong story and strong characters that fit into a particular world. So if I have a great idea for another animal book, then yes, I’ll definitely write that book. But I’m very wary about writing a particular type of story just for the sake of it – I think that way leads to a feeling of retreading familiar ground, and that’s not the sort of writer I want to be.




Mes Premières Lectures : In what conditions was your book translated into French ?

Tom Moorhouse : I didn’t have very much to do with the process at all ! I knew it was going to be translated, and I have a copy of the finished product, which looks great. I’ve read it to the best of my ability (I haven’t spoken French in years). It’s quite a strange experience reading a book you are familiar with in a language you don’t know very well. It turns out that I can read French but only if I first wrote it in English !


Mes Premières Lectures : What are your future and ongoing projects in respects of writing ?

Tom Moorhouse : At the moment I’m writing the third book in the series. The third is a bit of a departure (and this also has relevance for your question above about different animals) because it focuses on Fodur’s history among the rats, not on water voles at all. It’s what I like to call a “ratrospective”. (Good luck translating that pun !) I hope to be finished the first draft early next year and then I have a few ideas for what I want to do afterwards, but nothing concrete enough to share at the moment !


Mes Premières Lectures : Do you have anything else you would like to share ?

Tom Moorhouse : Fun vole fact : did you know that water voles have flank glands ? They leave scent at territorial markers - called “latrines” - by scraping these glands with their hind legs and then drumming their feet down onto flattened piles of their own droppings. This is just one of the reasons that there will never be a superhero called ’Vole Man’.

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Interview of Tom Moorhouse : Mes Premières Lectures