Clare Balding on 'The Girl Who Thought She Was A Dog'

TV presenter and local resident reveals what inspired her latest book

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The award-winning writer, television and radio presenter and Chiswick resident, Clare Balding, grew up in Hampshire surrounded by dogs and ponies.

She could ride before she could walk, and was obsessed with animals. In fact she says that she and her brother felt they were definitely lower in the family pecking order than the animals. "I've always joked with children that I grew up thinking I was a dog."

Her latest book, The Girl Who Thought She Was A Dog, published for World Book Day today (1 March), tells the story of a little girl called Fennell who loves her dog Twiglet so much, she decides to act like her pet. The book has been widely praised for its sympathetic depiction of the strong bond that develops between animals and humans.

Clare and her spouse Alice live in Chiswick, and here she answers questions from about her writing life and how much books mean to her.

What was the first book you ever read?
I can’t remember the first book I ever read but growing up my favourite book to read and the one I probably read most was Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.

Were you a reader as a child?
Yes, I loved reading so I was always taking a book off with me to a big armchair or to my room. I liked the escapism of imagining another world created by Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton.

What are you currently reading ?
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I would recommend it as the one book to read this year.

Favourite novels?
My short list would include The 100 Year Man Who Jumped Out of a Window, Hunger Games, Me
Before You, War Horse and Black Beauty.

clare balding and her dog archie
Clare and her dog Archie

When do you find time to read?
It can be difficult with a busy schedule but reading is always something I make time for. I love reading to my niece, Flora in particular and she makes me do all the different voices for her.

Where did the idea for your World Book Day book come from?
The Girl Who Thought She Was A Dog came about because I’ve always joked with children that I grew up thinking I was a dog and then in Jersey at their children’s literature festival I was asked “did you realise you weren’t a dog yourself or did your parents have to tell you?” The literal thinking of it made me laugh and I thought - there’s a story in that.

Do you write in a structured way (eg time set aside) or when you feel inspired?
I do always write a plot arc and a character breakdown before I start, I don’t always know the details of how it will end. I think it is so important to care about the characters and what happens to them so as well as the obvious points of a good plot and strong embodiment of characters, you have to invest enough emotion into the creation of those characters that you care about them as if they were real people.

Advice to aspiring writers ( of any age)
Start writing as early as you can - I read a story the other day by a 7-year-old that was really good. The trick is to be open to adaptation - writing the story is one thing but if you want to make it really good, you will have to let other people read it and take on board their comments.

Writing is only half the work - rewriting is the key.

March 1, 2018

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