Piers Torday: children’s novelist

24 Apr

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story.  TV writer and theatre fan Piers Torday has just had his first novel published – The Last Wild. It’s an animal adventure set in a very empty, futuristic English landscape so how did he manage to write it when he’s based in Islington jostled by 200,000+ people? Interview by Nicola Baird.


The interview with Piers Torday was in a flower-filled living room that looks out on to a jungly garden.  One bunch came from publishers Quercus after The Last Wild launch party at Daunts, Holland Park, and the tulips are survivors from his birthday the week before.

The interview with Piers Torday was in a flower-filled living room that looks out on to a jungly garden. One bunch came from publishers Quercus after The Last Wild launch party at Daunts, Holland Park, and the tulips are survivors from his birthday the week before.


Win your own FREE COPY of Piers Torday’s fabulous children’s novel, The Last Wild. It’s a hardcover book worth £9.99; and it’s signed. To win just email nicolabaird.green@gmail.com putting LAST WILD BOOK in the subject line. The lucky winner will be picked on Wednesday 8 May 2013 at 5pm. If you’d like to include a note about the best things for a 12-year-old boy to do in Islington (or anywhere else!)  in your answer that’d be great.

NOTE: The winner will need to supply their first name and a UK postal address.


“Animals can be vulnerable, timid and voiceless – a bit like the way some children feel.  There’s a long tradition of writers using talking animals as a way for children to deal with issues like death, loss, sacrifice and courage,” says Piers Torday at his wooden table in N5. Down the road is Clissold Park (admittedly in Hackney, but just minutes from bustling Highbury Barn) which boasts deer, wildfowl and aviary birds.

Right on cue Dusty, the neighbour’s tortoiseshell cat stalks into Piers’ garden and sits down calmly by the bamboo, as if joining us. I don’t think she can hear us through the sitting room’s thick glass window…

pierstordaybk“I’m a huge optimist,” continues Piers. “In The Last Wild Kester, his dad and friend Polly think all the animals are dead, but they keep finding survivors. In a world of dwindling resources it’s a big question for children – will there be any animals left? I feel if there’s one animal left, even one rhinoceros, then I’m hopeful that we can use human ingenuity to solve things.”

Piers grew up in a 17th century cottage in the market town of Hexham, in Northumberland – a county renowned for having more animals than people.* He studied English at Oxford University where he fell in love with plays and comedy.

pierstorday_floHe also an enviable literary pedigree. His mum, Jane, ran a children’s book shop in Hexham when he was a tot. Roald Dahl even gave baby Piers a pat when he visited Toad Hall Books (now closed).

More recently his father, Paul Torday, who’d spent a lifetime in engineering became a best selling author at 60 with Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

After graduating Piers went to the Edinburgh Festival where he met Christopher Richardson, founder of the Pleasance Theatre*, who offered him a job –in the bar. “I went from Newcastle to King’s Cross station and then hopped on a bus to Caledonian Road. That was 1996. I haven’t left Islington since, apart from a brief foray to south London.”

Piers lucked out at the Pleasance. When he overheard a director complaining he was overwhelmed by scripts, Piers offered to read some. Within a year Piers was programming the theatre’s Edinburgh Festival programme. He’s now a trustee.

“Working in the theatre there are a lot of late nights, so it’s really helpful living near where you work. But I love Islington too. I like the fact that Islington is on a hill, there’s the light, the not very tall buildings – those low Georgian terraces, the colour of the brick – I find it very soothing, and love all those squares… and then I discovered Highbury.

“I lived in Barnsbury Road in a terrace of Georgian houses which hadn’t been redone since the 1970s, near the Pleasance. When I met Will (the pair are planning their civil partnership in May) he wanted to move out of his place to do a PhD and both of us were looking for somewhere more peaceful. In our 20s and early 30s Barnsbury was great fun; but now I’m no longer the person coming home at 3am I don’t enjoy the late night noise, the traffic and the buses.

“I’d never stopped and looked at Highbury, but we rented the first flat we looked at on Riversdale Road which is fantastically quiet.

“We’ve only been here two to three years but recognise and know people. My friend Harry Wallop has a huge section in his book Consumed about Islington. He claims in certain parts people are more likely to bump into each other  ‘in the BA check-in queue to Oman’ than by your front door. Highbury seems different. There are even children who play in the streets nearby – you see them wearing curtains so they can pretend to be kings or putting a box on their head so they can be robots. Playing out suggests a sense of place, it’s where people belong, not just a property on a map.

“Our flat is also near Clissold Park which is lovely to wander around. When you’re writing you can’t underestimate how easy it is to get locked into your head, or the computer screen. A half-hour walk is hugely soothing: Clissold Park has the right mix of water, landscape and animals. The fallow deer there are different to Stag in my book, but I like watching how they sleep, the way they rest their heads on the ground, how their bones stick out and how they get up.

Insider’s guide to Islington

piers_torday_globeI like going to shops where I know people – Arsenal Supermarket & Off Licence has got a good range and nice croissants. It’s next to The Globe, a Turkish café, that says it has the best coffee in Highbury and it does!

Arsenal Supermarket, 229 Blackstock Road, N5 020 7359 3093

The Globe, 231 Blackstock Road, closed Mondays, 020 7354 1400

The best place for good value brunch is Garufa – their Monmouth coffee  is almost as delicious as The Globe.

Garufa, 104 Highbury Park, N5.Open Mon-Sun 10-22.30, tel: 020 7226 0070

I really like our local pub, the Woodbine. It feels like it is full of friends and I’ve seen Bates (Lord Grantham’s valet) from Downton Abbey drinking there!  In Barnsbury the Drapers Arms has nice beer and used to have delicious food.

Woodbine, 215 Blackstock Road, N5

Drapers Arms, 44 Barnsbury Street, N1 tel: 020 7619 0348

The lamb baby ribs for £11 at Yildiz are sensationally delicious. It says it’s Dermot O’Leary’s favourite place, and can you believe it I then saw Dermot O’Leary in there?

 Yildiz, 163 Blackstock Road, 020 73543899

Fitness First on Avenell Road is the one place I spend more time than at home.


You can have your book and eat it… The last of the cupcakes from Piers Torday’s book launch.

So why did Piers write his book? “I wanted to challenge myself. I love stories about wizards, witches and werewolves, and complicated fantastic places with made up rules. But I felt English wildlife is neglected. I wanted to go back to my childhood amusing myself in a big space to remind children how you can have as much adventure in your own place – your garden say – as can be found on the computer. The landscape in The Last Wild may seem eerie and alien, but my hope would be if you went on a family holiday in Scotland it would spark your imagination.”

Or maybe even tempt kids outside for an afternoon playing in the park?

Piers is working on the sequal to The Last Wild, this time set in the city. It may help that he’s a reading volunteer with the charity Beanstalk  which sees him working with children at Hargrave Park Primary school  in Archway to improve their reading. “The Last Wild is for children aged 8-12 years, an age when children are just learning,” adds Piers, “they can enjoy a multitude of experiences like running to a tree or playing on their i-phone. They don’t distinguish between good or bad learning.”

Seems like an approach us grown ups could perhaps benefit from too because it helps you try new things. So here’s to being out and about in Islington, whatever the weather.

You can enjoy Piers’ TV comedy work on BBC3 in August with Boom Town. Don’t forget to enter the competition (see top) or order your own copy of The Last Wild.



Need to know
Northumberland population density* Evidence here – I’m doubtful about this, but Piers pointed out that it’s a well-known quote and in Northumberland you will see plenty of sheep and cattle as well as foxes, otters, bats, kestrels, swifts, swallows and red kites. Red squirrels have been reintroduced and in the rivers there are salmon. Northumberland is the sixth biggest county (501,301ha) in England but sparsely populated (0.34 people per hectare). In contrast Islington is rather small, but it is London’s most densely populated borough with around 137 people per hectare, see here.

Pleasance Theatre info here Carpenter Mews, North Road, N7. Nearest tube: Caledonian Road.

Over to you

What made you get involved in Islington life – do you find it a way to make friends or something to be proud about doing?  By the way, if you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.


One Response to “Piers Torday: children’s novelist”


  1. Martin Burton: circus founder | Islington Faces Blog - April 29, 2013

    […] COMPETITION to win the Last Wild children’s novel — SEE WHAT TO DO HERE.  […]

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