HAYDN MIDDLETON Q & A

Is your name pronounced ‘Hay-dn’ or ‘High-dn’? The first.

What and for whom do you write? Largely non-fiction books for children – often about history – and fiction with an otherworldly aspect for adults.

Isn’t it tricky to write books for two distinct readerships? No, the projects cross-refer. I write less effectively for adults when I’m not at the same time writing for children.

Where does your heart lie? The Thames Valley, South Wales, Devon – all places where my family has roots and I have mostly lived myself.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Significantly better at ball sports.

What is your greatest achievement? My beloved children.

Which book changed your life? To some degree or other, every single one I’ve read.

Could you possibly give a less affected answer? The History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, a medieval chronicle that is almost entirely fantastical. I first read it while doing research for a children’s schoolbook and it served as an entry point for me to all the wonders of Celtic myth, legend and folktale, upon which I drew for six of my novels for adults. I then lectured a fair bit on the subject too, in Britain and abroad.

You also teach creative writing? Yes, a regular online course for Jericho Writers, a firm which offers editorial advice to budding writers, and customised courses for Stanford University’s Overseas Studies Program in Oxford.

Have you ever written anything except books? One or two stage plays for children. And during the 1990s I wrote text for a number of British Foreign Office publications for free distribution overseas – mainly brochures and wallcharts about British historical and sporting achievements. Some might call it propaganda, but it was propaganda I happened to believe in at the time.

Why ‘Haydn Kaye’? It’s a 2018 reboot of myself as a children’s writer. The late Iain Banks wrote as both Iain Banks and Iain M. Banks. A mischievous fellow writer suggested Haydn M. Iddleton, but since my own middle initial is K for Keith I went instead for Haydn Kaye.

What is the worst job you’ve done? Quite possibly this one – during those fallow periods when my fiction for adults strikes no response from the publishing industry or reading public. (But it’s worth persevering, because when a proper conversation gets going it’s the best job too.)

If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose? The idea that money is not the measure of all things.

What is your favourite word? Dottle – the stuff left in a pipe after smoking it.

And your favourite smell? Fresh tarmac.

Who would play you in the film of your life? Wilfrid Hyde-White.

What is your phone wallpaper? A photo of my beloved partner trying not to have her photo taken.

Do your adult novels have a common theme? At a pinch you could say they’re all about history that didn’t happen. History which certain people may have wanted to happen, and so they made up stories about it. Created History.

Which book do you give as a gift? The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony by Roberto Calasso.

What song would you like played at your funeral? Little Red Robin Hood Hit the Road by Robert Wyatt (the entire song; I imagine Ivor Cutler’s closing recitation might start once the coffin has been conveyed out of view).

Do You Know The Way To San Jose? I’m afraid I have always had an appalling sense of direction.

What is your motto? Numquam e siluis excedes. You’re never out of the woods. Partly because I’m always lost (see answer to previous question), partly because there are sometimes opportunities to be had from this apparent predicament. ‘Isn’t it good to be lost in the wood?’ as Syd Barrett sings in Octopus, his solitary solo single release, though I firmly believe we are all in the woods together.