Interview: Claire Barker

Claire is author of the Knitbone Pepper books, a series about a funny, friendly family of ghost animals who reside at crumbling Starcross Hall. Claire and Knitbone recently won the Simply Books X Factor award, voted for by 2,000 children, and were shortlisted for the Sainsburys Children’s Fiction Award in 2017.  We’ve recently been visiting schools with Claire, who read to over 1000 children in just 3 days, and ran a hugely successful writer’s workshop at CCB. We asked Claire the question we ask everyone – what was the book that changed your life?

Q: What book changed your life?

A: Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee

My O level nemesis. I hated it, I loathed and despised it. I had to write essays about grannies and goats and nymphomaniacs and it all seemed so ridiculous. I lived in a Devon village but liked pop music and going to the local rollerina – my 80s world couldn’t be further removed but for some reason the examinations board thought it would be suitable for young people to study. I still have my heavily graffitied copy which leaves me in no doubt about my feelings for it in 1985. Once my exams were over I chucked it in a box and swore never to read it again. Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee

But of course I did read it again; at least twenty, maybe thirty times. These days the opening lines are still as bright as sunlight in my mind and the cast of characters feel like long lost relatives. It’s a very special book, a snapshot of a lost time – an entrancing painting created from words. It’s stayed with me through graduation, parenthood, house moves and career changes. It has been a constant part of my creative landscape, calling me back to the green lanes again and again. It tells ordinary stories about ordinary people but magically.

I love the loose lined illustrations, as wild as bramble whips. I love the bitter-sweetness of the soldiers in the woods. Mostly I love Mrs Lee, her armfuls of wildflowers and rushes of unbridled love. It captures the essence of rural Englishness so beautifully.

The other day I was signing books at a school with Crediton Community Bookshop. A young boy brought up his book and asked for it to be dedicated to Laurie. “ Oh, like Laurie Lee?” I asked, not really expecting him to know who he was.

“I’m named after him” he said.

My face split into a huge grin. I’m sure my 15 year old self would have rolled her eyes and tutted.

You can read more about Claire here.

To buy a book from the Knitbone Pepper series, or any of Claire’s books, order from us here . To find out more about our schools programme, visit our Schools page.