Everyone always starts these “guest spots” by saying how thrilled they are etc. etc. but today I really AM delighted because my guest today is someone with whom I think I have a lot in common. We’ll see, shall we?
My guest today is Roland Clarke, journalist, blogger and writer. Roland welcome to the Bingergread Cottage and let me serve you up a cup of something. Make yourself at home and just shove Princess Lilly down if you don’t want terrier hairs all over your trousers. Now, I know that you used to be an equestrian journalist and you know that I was the original Thelwell girl, so let’s talk horses. How did you get started? Were you also a keen rider? Which came first?
My paternal grandfather was a master of foxhounds so, along with my brother & sister, I was encouraged to ride when I was little. Ironically I didn’t take to coercion, but my sister did, and she was an active member of the local pony club and hunted. At the earliest opportunity I gave up riding, much to my family’s disappointment – except my grandfather, who said I would take it up again when I met a girl. And he was right. I took up riding again in my late teens after meeting one of the daughters of Douglas Bunn. Sadly I got on better with her father and ended up working briefly with the course designers at his showjumping venue Hickstead. That yielded one of my first printed articles, but that’s another tale.
Did you have your own horses or did you “borrow” other people’s? Can you remember your first horse or which was your favourite and why?
When I was little, the ponies that I rode belonged to my mother and the one I can remember best was Snowball. But I kept falling off, and according to my grandfather’s groom I was ‘like a sack of potatoes’. When I re-discovered the joy of ‘a leg at each corner’ – to quote Thelwell – I rode a thoroughbred-cross owned by a couple renting my grandmother’s stables. Unfortunately when I wanted to buy the horse, as we totally clicked, the family didn’t support me – even though I could afford it. After that experience, I have been limited to the odd ride on friends’ horses.
You were a journalist, now that is fascinating. Which publications did you work for or were you independent? What sort of equestrian activities did you cover? Did you meet a lot of famous people in the horse-world? Can you tell us any amusing or exciting anecdotes from that time?
When I finished my A levels, I got a job as a sub-editor with the countryside magazine ‘The Field’. The Assistant Editor, Derek Bingham, took me to my very first horse trials event, Tidworth three-day-event, where I befriended and provided photos to some of the Junior GB team. They included Tiny Clapham, who would go on to compete at the Los Angeles Olympics, the first soon-to-be ‘famous’ riders. Inspired I set up a photographic business in the mid 70’s, selling photographs on the horse trials (eventing) circuit, but it folded. I was pulled back to equestrian journalism in 1993, supplying articles mainly for ‘Eventing’ magazine. This brought me into contact with many of the leading lights of the sport, and also in other equestrian disciplines. I have many memorable memories but the one that was most exhilarating was riding as a passenger with one of GB’s top horse team carriage drivers, Pippa Bassett, at two international competitions in the marathon phase (cross-country).
Was journalism your only career choice? Did you want to do anything else or did you pursue any other avenues? Tell us a bit more about your background, if you would.
I know you won’t mind me asking you this, but I know that you had to give up work due to ill-health, as I did. Could you tell us about that? How has your condition affected you? Have you found compensations, for example things you can do now that you didn’t have time for when you were working full time?
The downside of having Multiple Sclerosis wasn’t apparent when I was diagnosed in 2000, beyond the initial attack. Not until I could no longer accept commissions for my regular work, knowing I was unable to meet the deadlines. However I kept working on easier assignments until around 2008. MS has been a steady deterioration from inconvenient exhaustion to the present dependency on a wheelchair, the painful spasms that can only be controlled by drugs, and when stressed, I struggle to make sense speaking. The upside has been meeting my second wife, Juanita, and re-discovering, with her help, another way to express myself.
Now, onto another commonality – writing! Having had a good rootle around in your blog I see that you have masses of work on the go. Please do tell us about them.
Masses is a good word, although in terms of completion there is just my first novel: Spiral of Hooves. Spiral is a mystery set against the horse trials world, so my equestrian knowledge proved invaluable. At the moment, I’m working through the notes from my US e-publisher’s editor, and hopefully the e-book will be out towards the end of 2013. The sequel, Tortuous Terrain, is in the plotting stage. Among the other draft novels lurking in the shadows is ‘Wyrm Bait’ the first of a series of mysteries with a cyber theme, and it’s set against a fantasy gaming world. My wife & I are avid gamers, which is how we met and how we chill. Wyrm Bait is currently with an independent editor and my beta readers. I’ve written the first draft of the sequel, as well as first drafts of two other novels. Short blurbs at http://rolandclarke.com/work-in-progress/.
Are you desperately organised and have a set routine for your writing? Can you describe an average day in the Clarke household? How do your plots come to you, piecemeal or springing fully formed from your mind?
Easily distracted is the theme of my day. I attempt to get emails out of the way first, and reconciling our accounts, but find it too easy to find other things to do, including surfing the internet. However I eventually – mid-afternoon – make time to write, or edit, but not both before MS exhaustion sets in. My wife, who has become my unflagging carer, also ensures that there is some structure to our day, ensuring we eat and generally reminding me if things need doing. My plots spring in part from dreams although not fully armoured like Athena. I attempt to develop the characters and plots, usually when I wake up and am lying in bed. But once writing the first draft there is room for new avenues to emerge.
I think I’m right in saying that we are both pagans. How did you come to this path? Would you like to tell us something about your beliefs?
You are right in sensing that there is something pagan there, but I have to admit that I am bad at practising anything. I was brought up in the Church of England but strayed far afield, always interested in other beliefs. I tried meditation and found walking in nature and leaning against trees more uplifting than trying to conjure mountains in my mind. Of all the pagan paths I am most inspired by shamanism, and one of my novels owes a little to Seid-Magic. Although I married Juanita in the
church where I was baptised and most of my ancestors are buried, the wild is my temple. So I need to spend more time in our garden where our green dragon is waking, and the fairies live in the hawthorn bush. Better inspiration than the bed? For ages I’ve believed in the interconnectin of all of life – call it the Gaia principle. (I could say more about this as Gaia was the name of my film company!)
Well perhaps we could talk about that in more depth next time. Thank you so much, Roland! It has been such fun chatting and I do hope you’ll come back when your next book is published so that we can talk again. And thank you for all the lovely photos from your personal album.
Many thanks Ailsa for this opportunity to look back on my life with fresh eyes.