Books: He is indeed a very altered Toad: Christina Hardyment talks to William Horwood, recreator of The Wind in the Willows

William Horwood has a formidable record of literary industry. There are now six of his 700-page sagas about the warring, whoring moles of Duncton Wood, 'by Lord of the Rings out of Watership Down', as the blurb on the cover of the 15th paperback reprint has it. And now he has had the confounded cheek (or brilliant panache, depending on your point of view) to write a sequel to Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows.

Horwood is disarmingly full of enthusiasm for his latest creation, and persuasive as only someone totally convinced of their own brilliance can be. In short, he's Toadlike - and that's a comparison he will take as a compliment, 'although there's a lot of Mole in me too'. He has little time for what he sees as the pretensions of the literary world. 'The best thing that ever happened to me was fluffing my interview to read English at Oxford. Instead I went to Bristol to do geography. That made me profoundly landscape literate. It also meant I could go on reading great classics without having to tear the texts apart. If I'd taken an English literature degree, I would never have written a decent novel.'

He toyed with teaching, then moved to the Daily Mail. He was 35 when the seed of the idea of Duncton Wood was planted by a memorable affair in the mid-Seventies with a Californian woman called Leslie, to whom the book is dedicated. 'One day we were having a lie-in and she said: 'I feel like a mole. I want you to write me a story about moles.' ' And that was it. 'It's the longest love-letter in the world. She's Rebecca. I'm Bracken. It's our story.'

There was another, sharper spur to writing the 'many-layered fiction' Horwood had dreamed of creating 'ever since we read The Secret Garden in class when I was 14, and I realised it wasn't just a story, it was a symbol'. When he was 32, his mother told him that he was illegitimate - one of the two of her five children who had been products of wartime extramarital adventure. Suddenly it made more sense that his legal father, an English literature don at Oxford, had sent his mother and the five children off to live in Deal when William was only a year old, turning up in Kent only occasionally to mark examination scripts and drink quantities of gin.

Bracken, the hero of Duncton Wood, is also a little pup lost who has to cope without a father, and who is constantly trying on different sorts of male authority - priest, warrior, lover, father, philosopher. He triumphs. So has Horwood. 'I see myself as Bracken, a shaman, making a kind of interior journey. I am prepared to leap out into the imaginative void and bring back a construct people can understand.'

Is The Willows in Winter (HarperCollins, pounds 12.99) that kind of construct? It opens convincingly enough in Mole's parlour, all glowing coals and wraparound armchairs, with hot toddy and memories of deeds of yore by the Famous Four being lapped up by a visiting nephew. The original plot is echoed almost exactly, though Toad steals an aeroplane rather than a car, escapes dressed up as a sweep instead of a washerwoman, and allows Toad Hall to burn down at Lloyd's expense instead of fighting a decent battle against the forces of disorder. All jolly good fun, and at times positively gripping. Patrick Benson's drawings are superb successors to those of E H Shepard.

But the effect is that of seeing someone you love in a fairground distorting mirror. The deliberately dated language is subtly wrong, genteel rather than gentlemanly. This is hibernal replay from Toad's point of view rather than sequel. As such it is not nearly as good as Wild Wood (Ad Lib pounds 4.99), Jan Needle's very funny 'alternative view of The Wind in the Willows', which retells the whole story from the point of view of the weasels and stoats.

What makes Horwood think that another sequel (John Dixon Scott also produced an airborne Toad in 1983) was necessary? He settles down to a litany of justification with all Toad's ingenuity. 'If I'd been born before Caxton, I'd have been the sort of chap who turned up at the campfire and got asked to tell stories. When you retell stories they change and continue - it's natural.'

And consider the mood of our times. 'This is the great age of sequels. People are harking back to the old favourites and asking what happened afterwards? I think it's because we're finally admitting to ourselves that we're sick and tired of all these clever clever talents that can't tell a decent story. We want to hear the old ones again, to retell them in terms of our times.'

In fact, he claims , the book was a 'genuine creative impulse'. He was just starting on a trilogy about wolves when he walked past a London picture gallery. In the window was an original E H Shepard sketch of Mole shivering in the base of a great tree. What could be more appropriate for a moleman of means than to buy it and hang it on the wall of his writing room? 'I began to see him as setting off on a journey rather than seeking shelter.' Add to that the coincidence that his parents were buried in the same churchyard as Kenneth Grahame and that he was born on the same day as Grahame's only son Alistair, and it became clear that the great White Mole in the sky was nudging him into action.

Horwood has little humility. 'The best reason of all for a sequel to Wind in the Willows is that Grahame's minor classic is a flawed book. It's too episodic, with two chapters - Wayfarers All and Piper at the Gates of Dawn - that don't fit. If you sent it to HarperCollins these days, they'd immediately come back at you and say, 'Can we take those two chapters out? They spoil the narrative line'. And it was totally wrong to end the book with 'He was indeed an altered Toad'. No one could possibly believe that.'

Totally wrong? Or wry Grahame humour? Certainly the venerable banker turned river-banker is on record as having said to friends that of course Toad never really altered. Nor does Horwood's solution to the 'technical problem' of the two erring chapters quite come off. Instead of leaving them to be skipped by those who couldn't understand them, he permeates the whole book with a misty pantheism that changes Mole, Rat and Otter from jolly independent fellows messing around in boats to rather solemn little seers plagued by recurrent intimations of immortality 'Beyond'.

The worst casualty is Badger, who is reduced to an irascible and ineffectual old codger, manipulated by Rat and Mole. All Grahame's elegant tensions between the domesticity of Mole End and the Water Rat's adventurousness; between Badger's formidable authority and Toad's irresponsibility, are lost. Toad is the hero: opportunist individualism has triumphed over an impotent little rural community. And there is more on the way. Horwood has laid clear trails in Willows in Winter for another book which will tie all three into a trilogy and, he revealed with relish, 'smash up the cosy clubland bachelor world good and proper by introducing women - large ones, at that'.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness