I’m delighted that Clay is out in the USA. It’s
a book that has many connections to my own life. It’s
set in the town where I grew up, Felling-on-Tyne, and much
of the action takes place in a real street, Watermill Lane.
And the quarry where the boys have their cave is very like
a quarry I used to play in. Just like Davie, the narrator
of the book, I was an altar boy. I had pals like his pal,
Geordie, and my first girlfriend was rather like Davie’s
first girlfriend, Maria. I never really knew anybody quite
like Stephen Rose, who is one of the main characters, and
the book’s main villain.
Stephen, I suppose, is a pretty strange lad. He was taken
away from home at the age of 11 to train to be a priest.
At that time, in the ’60s, this wasn’t unusual.
I knew several boys to whom this happened. Sometimes the
boys did make it, and become priests in the end after many
years of training, but quite often they found that the college
and the priestly life didn’t suit them, and they came
back to the ordinary world a few years later. Sometimes,
unsurprisingly, it was very difficult for them to adjust.
I wanted to write about a boy like this, but I wanted to
add some mystery to the mix. So there are rumours about what
Stephen got up to in the training college. There are tales
of strange and supernatural events. There are suggestions
that he is evil, that he has led other boys astray. There
are even suggestions that he was involved in his father’s
death, and that he drove his mother insane. Stephen Rose
arrives in the ordinary little town of Felling to stay with
his strange aunt, Crazy Mary, and he begins to have a big
impact on the lives of Davie and his friends. Strangest of
all, he believes that he has the power to make creatures
out of clay, and to make them live. He persuades Davie that
together they can make a man-sized creature and use it to
defeat Mouldy, who is the town bully. Davie goes along with
him, and he’s fascinated, scared, unbelieving, and
then in the middle of the night, they make the creature,
Clay, and it stands up and walks. . . .
At times, the book was pretty scary to write. Sometimes
I felt like Stephen Rose was working some kind of spell on
me. At other times, I was laughing out loud at the antics
of Geordie and Davie in the streets and in their classroom.
Just now I’m involved in several projects. I like
to experiment and to work in different forms. I’m writing
a stage version of The Fire-Eaters, which will probably be
staged over the next year. I’m also working on an opera
of Skellig with the wonderful American composer Tod Machover.
If all goes well, this’ll probably be premiered in
2008. There are plans for movies of Skellig and The
And Clay is probably to be adapted for TV. So there’s
lots going on! I’m also, of course, writing more fiction.
More news on this soon. . . .
I’ve had a little log cabin built among the trees
in our garden. It’s my new work place, and there’s
no telephone line and no e-mail—just a desk, a couple
of chairs, a laptop and printer and some books—and
it’s wonderful, especially when the sun’s shining
down and the birds are singing all around. I wonder how it
will be when the Northumbrian frosts come back and the snow
starts coming down. Better get some insulation in that roof,
I think, and a warm carpet on the floor, and a nice warm
As well as sitting writing in my cabin, I like to travel,
and my work continues to take me around the world. I was
in China for the first time earlier this year, giving talks
and readings in some international schools. I had a week
in Germany. In the fall, I’ll be in New York for a
children’s literature conference and probably to give
a couple of readings. I’ll be in USA again early next
summer, working at Hollins College in Virginia. And it looks
like I’ll be visiting Thailand sometime over the next
Thanks for visiting the site, and for reading my books.
It’s great to think that when I’m in my cabin
in Northern England, I have readers so many, many miles away.