Speaking to us exclusively before appearing on stage about his first work of fiction, The Prince’s Pen, the erudite Horatio Clare told us what inspired him to write a novella narrated from the point of view of the androgynous Clip, a freedom fighter in Clare’s terrifying, dystopian world.
In the original Mabinogion myth on which this novella is based, Llud, King of Britain seeks the wise counsel of his youngest brother, Llevelys, in trying to rid his kingdom of three plagues which have been cast over it. Clare fast-forwards this myth to a post-apocalyptic Wales, resource-rich in precious water, bordering infighting England which has become an archipelago of islands besieged by climate change.
The re-telling stays true to the nub of the original. In Clare’s hands, it also benefits from a political twist and inherits what readers of Clare’s previous memoirs will recognise as the echoes of the author’s life history.
Take our narrator, Clip: an archetypal outsider. Clare explains he feels some affiliation with outsiders, being English (with, he says, a ‘posh accent’ to boot) and yet having been schooled in Wales fifteen miles as the crow flies from the cosy Blue Boar pub in which we meet.
Without spoiling the third section of the book, you also can’t help but feel that the setting in this part is also indebted to the isolated sheep farm so high in altitude I imagine ears would pop approaching it, where Horatio lived in his infancy.
One of Clare’s talents that shine through in this novella is his prowess at dialogue; he’s able to exploit his obvious relish of the Welsh cadence, a lilt which imbues all that Ludo says.
Clare attributes some of this skill to having cut his teeth at Radio Four as a young producer. It was at the BBC, Clare explains, that he learnt to think in terms of sound: there, he mastered the art of eavesdropping. And this is where Clare felt the freedom in writing this commission most keenly. For, after all, what is retelling a myth but an eavesdropping on the oral stories of old and redressing them to make them relevant for the present day?
Although Horatio’s heart is Wales, his home is in Verona, Italy and he has just spent two months on a container ship researching his next book, mucking in and sharing dinner with Danish sailors, surprisingly quiet, Horatio remembers, in the saloon. It will be fascinating to see how he interprets the tensions between silence and noise of life at sea in his next offering.
A version of this was published in the Western Mail Insider column, Saturday 14 January 2012. Julia Forster is an online and print contributor to New Welsh Review
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