Walking Mountain



A conversation with Vikki Reilly and Kristian Kerr, part of
The Hitchhiker's Guide to Scottish Literature.

Walking Mountain - Ask the Author

I once saw a meteor shower. Is that where you got the idea of herding meteors from?

You are so lucky - I always seem to be facing the wrong way when I go out looking for shooting stars and meteor showers! But when I do catch sight of one, they do seem as if they're alive, somehow, racing across the sky. And I loved the idea of the meteors browsing in an asteroid belt, like a herd of cows. And those mind-bogglingly long journeys through the vastness of space are just so exciting to think about!

How did you decide what Rose would look like?

Rose walked into my head looking just the way he does in the book - little and silver-skinned and silver-eyed with wispy white dandelion hair. All I had to do was write him down. Finding out what he was like inside took longer, of course. For that, I had to spend time with him, to get to know him better. I wanted my readers to know things about him, like how he eats rocks or the kinds of humming songs Drivers enjoy, but it's what he's like as a person that makes you want to go on writing - or reading - about him.

Some of the animals in Walking Mountain are a bit like the ones we know, but with some differences. Some of the food sounds a little like the food we eat – but with some differences. Why did you make up new animals and foods?

I love making things up - animals and vegetables and places. And you're right, the world of Walking Mountain is a bit like our world but a bit different too, so the animals and vegetables and places would be like, and not like, ours. Which means I could have fun inventing eels with teeth in the roof of their mouths and wulfs with fangs and Minkey Monkeys with poo problems.

Do you research your settings, or do you write only from your imagination? And do you like watching natural history programmes?

Research AND making things up. I'm picking up new facts all the time and they all go into my head until I need them for a story. I've learned so much from watching nature programmes on TV - there are so many amazing things out there - and David Attenborough is my hero! I can still remember watching him picking up a seashell on the top of the Himalayas, and how I tucked that bit of information away until I started to think about Walking Mountain.

Lady Allum made me laugh. Did you base her on a real person?

Lady Allum has such a great life - in my imagination I think I'd love to do what she does. In reality, I don't like bugs, or getting too hot, and if I tried to swing on a vine I would definitely fall into the river, but in my mind I'm just like her!

I liked that Rose, Pema and Singay became such good friends, even though they are so different. Do you think friendship is important?

You're right - you couldn't find three more different personalities than Rose, Pema and Singay, and yet they gradually learn about each other, and the more they learn, the more they care about each other. Maybe that's what friendship is - really getting to know somebody. And that has to be important.

All your characters like to talk. Do you like talking?

I do. I really, really do. I like to listen too, because otherwise I'd be a horrible person, but my mouth does enjoy getting lots of words out.

When you started writing Walking Mountain, did you know what would happen to Singay in the end? If you didn’t, was it a surprise to you?

No, I didn't know how the book would end when I started. It was a complete surprise to me, but then, when I finally figured it out, I realised it was the only possible way it could end. Different writers work different ways: some plan a story carefully and some just jump in. I'm a jumper. I don't know exactly how my characters are going to react to things once we get started. They can take over in fascinating ways. Sometimes I have to take back control, of course, and sometimes that means I write a lot of words that I never use. But that's okay because I'm learning about my characters and the story all the time.

You use all the senses in Walking Mountain – did you do that deliberately or did it come naturally?

I've visited some different parts of the world and been fascinated by how, well, different they all feel. When I was thinking about the places in the book, like the hot, steamy Jungle or the vast Plains or the dangerous, dry Plateau or the smelly swampy Flats, I imagined what it would be like to be there myself. And things like sounds and smells, the way foods taste or what your skin would feel like were all important parts of that.

I’ve read quite a few of the books you’ve written and often they’re funny. Walking Mountain is more serious, but there were still bits that made me laugh. Do you like to include humour in your books or does it come naturally?

When you write a book you know you're going to be spending a lot of time with your characters and in that world. And if I'm going to spend a lot of time someplace or with someone, I want to have a laugh sometimes.

Towards the end of the book Pema worries that people will just go back to their old ways after everything that’s happened. Do you worry about that too?

Yes, I worry about that. But I also have a lot of hope. Lots of the time we seem to be really slow to learn stuff that's new - it's hard to change - but part of being human is being kind and smart and surprising! I'm betting on that. It's one of the reasons I write novels.

Why did you use the Bhutanese words?

Years ago I met a woman called Jamie Zeppa, who'd been living and working in Bhutan, a tiny Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas. She said that in the Sharchokpa-lo dialect, which she'd been learning, her name meant "beetroot". I loved the idea of having a hidden meaning to your name so much that I decided to do it for all the characters and places in Walking Mountain. It was fun!

In Walking Mountain some of the characters were really greedy - they didn’t care about anybody but themselves. Is that something that worries you in the real world?

Yes. I do worry about that. We all live on this one planet so we're effectively all one family, which means we're going to get on each others' nerves sometimes, but it also means we should look after each other. We can make things better for everyone - we're smart enough - we really are. We just have to decide to try and go on trying in as many different ways as our amazing brains can come up with.

Where in the world did you set Walking Mountain?

I got the idea of a mountain that walks from India. About 180 million years ago, the sub-continent split off from ancient Gondwana and moved northwards until, about 50 million years ago, it banged into Asia - and then kept on going, pushing up some of the tallest mountains in the world. That's why you can find seashells on the top of the Himalayas!