Today we publish an interview with Clare Reddaway, an accomplished writer of plays and short stories who earned a Special Mention for her book, The Queen of Sheba’s feet, in the 2009 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices book award.
The Queen of Sheba’s feet follows the adventures of Bilkis, the Queen of Sheba’s handmaiden. Bilkis is travelling with her mistress across the desert to visit King Solomon in 980 BC. She can solve a mystery as old as the bible: is the Queen the daughter of a djinn, and does she therefore have goat’s feet? But she can only discover the truth if she gets through the desert alive…
There’s an extract from Chapter 5 at the bottom of the post, but we kick off with some questions: Thanks to Clare for helping us out!
What do you usually write about and why?
I’m not sure that I have something that I usually write about. I have been inspired by so many different topics and characters: an exiled Ethiopian Emperor in wartime Bath; a Victorian boy on a canal boat; a stone-age girl who is not allowed to go on a hunt. I like to delve into times and places that I am not familiar with, and to try to find a point of connection with the people there and then. I suppose if there is a common theme, it is that I am interested by characters who are outsiders, uncomfortable in their place or in themselves. I am interested in exploring how they change and grow.
Why do you write?
I like telling stories. I always have, and I always will. If someone wants to publish them, all well and good. Otherwise it’s me and my increasingly weary guinea pig.
Where and when do you write?
I write in my study, which has a view over the hills of Bath. I can see our golden Georgian terraces with their slate roofs, and Ralph Allen’s Palladian mansion, Prior Park, which he built as an advertisement for his stone quarries (a successful ad campaign, I’d say). Sometimes, ridiculously, a steam train puffs across the valley. Most gloriously though, and so rare in England, I can see the edge of the town, and fields with cows where the countryside begins. I write here whenever I can.
What inspired you to enter the Diverse Voices Award?
I think it is such an admirable award. It is so important for children to experience other cultures through stories. Children’s authors seem to me to be happy to portray other worlds, whilst rarely portraying other countries. I hoped that this award might nudge authors – and indeed myself – to explore our world differently.
What was your favourite book as a child?
I didn’t have one favourite, but a selection: The Secret Garden, The Treasure Seekers, When Marnie was There by Joan G Robinson, the Narnia Chronicles, the Swallows and Amazons books, Mary Renault’s The King Must Die and The Bull From the Sea, The Woolpack by Cynthia Harnett.
Who is your favourite children’s author either writing today or from the past?
There are so many. As a parent I have experienced a whole sequence of books that are new, and that I missed. I like The Indian in the Cupboard series by Lynne Reid Banks. I like Rosemary Sutcliffe’s The Black Ships Before Troy and The Wanderings of Odysseus. And for the completely contemporary, I like Michael Morpurgo, Eoin Colfer, Philip Pullman, Frank Cotterell Boyce, Michelle Paver – I believe we are in a golden age of writing for children. I particularly love the theatrical adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, which I took my daughter to last year. I wept and wept.
What does the future hold for you and your writing?
The Queen Of Sheba’s Feet is currently with Frances Lincoln, and all my fingers are crossed that they like it enough to publish it. As for my other writing, I’ve had a number of stories, both for adults and children, published in anthologies this year. I am a member of live short fiction group Heads and Tales, and perform with them across the south west (come see our next show!). My latest project with Heads and Tales has been We’ve So Many Things in Common. I was commissioned to write a children’s trail inspired by the local history of Horfield Common in Bristol for this event, and I am hoping to use the same format elsewhere. I also write scripts. Have a listen to Laying Ghosts, an audio play at Wireless Theatre Company. My latest play, New Religion, has been selected for a reading by The Group at Theatre Royal Stratford East in October.
“It’s a mirage.” Darih was lying on the top of the dune staring into the distance with Bilqis.
“A mirage! Don’t be ridiculous!” Bilqis looked at him in disbelief. He could see what she could see. A city, with golden spires and turquoise towers, with palaces and temples, palm fronds and cedar trees, more glorious than any she had imagined existed before. It couldn’t be a mirage. “A mirage is water. I’ve seen a mirage. We all have. That. Is. Not. A. Mirage.”
Bilqis’ voice was becoming shrill. She had tears in her eyes. “I know why you are saying this. You’re jealous. You’re jealous of my dancing and you’re jealous because the Queen has never noticed you. And now you’re jealous because I saw Jerusalem first.”
Darih shrugged. “Please yourself,” he said and he got up and started to slide back down the dune. Bilqis looked back at her beautiful, wonderful city. Was he right?
“I’m going to look,” she shouted down at him, but all he did was to hunch his shoulders and carry on down into the camp. Bilqis set off towards the city.
The way was difficult. The sand on the camp side of the dune had been soft like flour. The sand on the other side had a crisp crust that cracked under her feet, plunging her up to her knees. She felt like she was wading. It was hard work.
When she reached the base of the dune, the saffron sand stretched in front of her, rippled like water on a lake when you throw in a pebble. Bilqis looked at the towers in the distance. She imagined the praise she would get from Tamrin for her sharp eyes. The Aunts would be proud of her, even Karabil might smile. She started to run. Although she was soon a long way from the first dune, the city seemed as far away as before.
Bilqis slowed to a walk. She had a stitch in her side from running and she was hot, although it was still early. She took off her shawl and dropped it on the sand. She’d pick it up on the way back. Ahead of her she could see a ridge, higher than the dune she had climbed before. I’ll just get to the top of that ridge, she thought, and then I’ll really be able to see the city. The ridge had been the colour of ripe apricots as she had set off, but now it was the warm rich yellow of honey.
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