Running for the Hills by Horatio Clare (first published in 2006)
Introduced by Eleanor Watkins, a full-time writer who lives in the hills near Hay-on-Wye
I recently re-read this account of Horatio Clare’s childhood and was captivated all over again. When the story reached the point where his young parents, almost on a whim, bought and moved to an isolated Welsh hill farm to raise sheep, I was in territory I recognised immediately. I was born and raised on such a farm, not very far away from Horatio’s, in a different decade and circumstance, but things don’t change all that much on a hill sheep farm.
Reading the story, I was again lost in admiration for the determination, guts, courage and often foolhardiness that his mother displayed in caring for her beloved flock, being shepherd, doctor, midwife, saviour and friend to each one and knowing them all by name. Sheep farming brings with it a myriad challenges and setbacks, with harsh weather, parasites, hardship, disappointment and sheer hard graft in abundance, and not always the certainty of much reward. We kept sheep ourselves for several years, and a comment of my husband’s was that the creatures know a hundred and one novel ways to die and will try them all.
Alongside this hard existence comes the story of a marriage gradually falling apart as two people increasingly pull in different directions, seen through the eyes of a sensitive small boy who obviously loved and cared deeply for both his parents. And the backdrop is the breathtaking beauty of the changing seasons and the love of the natural world that sent down deep roots into the heart of the writer, and shines through in his beautiful and lyrical descriptions. As I heard Horatio say some years ago in answer to a question at Hay Festival, he ‘walked in Eden’ and he knew it. And we owe him a debt for recording it for the rest of us.
Running for the Hills was listed for The Guardian’s First Book Award and won The Somerset Maugham prize. Horatio Clare was also nominated for Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year.
Read an interview with Horatio Clare in the New Welsh Review here.
Follow Horatio Clare on Twitter here.
Eleanor Watkins’ latest book, The Village, is a fictional story for older children that is set during the black plague in a village based on Clyro, near Hay.