William Horwood

William Horwood portrait image to appear alongside the William Horwood biography.

William Horwood is an English author born in Oxford on the 12th of May 1944. He was brought up on the south-east coast of England and attended Bristol University where he graduated with a degree in Geography. The works for which he is best known are the best-selling Duncton Mole trilogies and the sequels to Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.

Horwood worked as a teacher, journalist and news reporter during a varied career before the publication of Duncton Wood in 1980. The book became an international bestseller and he has not looked back since. The Duncton and Willows books are loved by both children and adults alike and draw favourable comparisons with Richard Adam's Watership Down.

I was a fan from the age of eight and I discovered them because my mum read them to me. She was brought up in Oxford and Kenneth Graham was very much an Oxford person so there was that connection and I always loved the stories, his ideas and so on.
William Horwood on The Wind in The Willows during an interview with Harper Collins.

The Duncton books consisted of two trilogies, The Duncton Chronicles and The Book of Silence, and where written between 1980 and 1993. The books follow the magical and spiritual journeys of a community of moles belonging to the Duncton Wood system.

But then again when I finished the first Duncton book I swore I’d never write another Duncton book again and now there are five more.
William Horwood interview with Harper Collins.

William Horwood's other notable works include The Stonor Eagles, Callanish and Skallagrigg.

WilliamHorwood.net is the most comprehensive website on William Horwood and his work - the perfect place to visit if you are looking for a great deal more information on the author.

The Duncton Chronicles - inspiration and acknowledgement

The Boy with No Shoes

The Boy With No Shoes is the deeply moving memoir of author William Horwood. It is the story of an extraordinary journey from a past too painful to imagine to a future every child deserves.

Based on best-selling novelist William Horwood’s own heartbreaking boyhood in south-east England after the Second World War, this is a triumphant story of a boy’s struggle with early trauma and his remarkable journey into adulthood. Using all the skills the went into the creation of his modern classics Duncton Wood, Skallagrigg and The Willows in Winter, Horwood has painted an unforgettable picture of childhood suffering, personal survival and the power of faith and courage to turn darkness into light.

The title of the book comes from a moment in the author’s childhood when his real father gave him a pair of shoes, the only present he had ever, until that point, received. His cruel half brother and cousin took and hid away the shoes - it was an event that stayed with him for the rest of his life. Before the book has even started, Horwood says that he would exchange the enormous success of his later novels to have known that identity of his real father and to have ‘held his hand, if only for a moment’.

The cruelty and neglect that Horwood suffered during childhood was marked, leading to depression and a phobia of rain. The story shows how important friends and family are in the shaping of a youngster’s life. Mr & Mr Bubbles, Arthur Sanders, Mr Wharton and Granny are names that will never be forgotten.

The window was a picture of mountains, peaks and valleys, shadowed cliffs and patches of green on which the sun was rising fast. They were so high I thought it would take a lifetime to reach the top of them. Stoning and the waves on the shingle beach seemed far away.
‘Those mountains are where Edmund Hilary practised before he went to climb Everest,’ said Uncle Max. ‘That big one is called Snowdon and all together they’re called Snowdonia.’

From: The Boy With No Shoes by William Horwood

The book’s ending is wonderful, if it wasn’t true then it would have to be classed as far-fetched, an uplifting experience that will stay with the reader forever.

The only shame is that there are not more references to the inspirations that lead to the writing of the beautiful Duncton Chronicles. Luckily, a joyous trip to Snowdonia, the learning of flowers names on the dunes near his coastal town provides an insight into this.

The sun shone on the white cliffs of the East Kent coast and all along my shingly shore. I stood and stared and thought a long, long time. I remembered a boy running from a man with shears, I remembered a locked gate, I remembered a hand holding mine in the time long ago; and a pair of shoes that I lost and couldn’t find.

From: The Boy With No Shoes by William Horwood

William Horwood books reviewed

Bibliography

The Duncton Chronicles

  • Duncton Wood (1980)
    Enter the magical, colourful, poignant world of Bracken and Rebecca, Mandrake the tyrant, Boswell the scribe, Hulver, Comfrey... and all the other moles of Duncton Wood. Set deep in the English countryside, this enchanting story tells of an ancient community losing its soul, but saved by courage and love.
  • Duncton Quest (1988)
    When Tryfan, son of Bracken and Rebecca, returns to the sacred Burrows of Uffington, it is to find dreadful signs of death and destruction. For out of the chilly North have swarmed the grikes, a fanatical tribe of warrior moles bent on destroying all believers in the powers of the Stone. Brave Tryfan's duty is clear - to muster and protect the few remaining Stone followers from the evil that seems certain to engulf them. With only a frail and timid mole named Spindle for company, he sets off on an epic journey...
  • Duncton Found (1989)
  • Duncton Tales (1991)
  • Duncton Rising (1993)
  • Duncton Stone (1993)

Tales of the Willows

  • The Willows in Winter (1993)
  • Toad Triumphant (1995)
  • The Willows and Beyond (1996)
  • Mole Gets Lost (1997)
  • Flying into Danger (1997)
  • Toad in Trouble (1997)
  • Willows at Christmas (1998)

Hyddenworld Quartet

  • Spring (2010)
    Even though we cannot survive without each other, humankind has long lost its ability to perceive the Hydden, the little people with whom we share our world. For they are the holders of natural lore and guardians of our link with the Earth, and now our joint habitat is in terrible danger. This magnificent quest involves characters from both these interweaving worlds, whose task is to find a ‘Shield Maiden’ and a ‘Giant’ able to save both worlds from themselves and the coming destruction of the Earth. If humans are to save their planet, they must learn how to tap back into the reservoirs of natural and spiritual wisdom, with these two alienated ‘races’ coming together again at last. At the start of this eventful story, Kate and Jack are five years old, but already no strangers to tragedy. In a powerful narrative we then follow their lives along both real and spiritual journeys as they come to realize what destiny expects of them. It is a story full of conflict, treachery, heartache and joy, set in the world we know and the one we have forgotten.
  • Awakening (2011)
    One momentous evening, events are set in motion that will decide the fate of our world and the Hyddenworld – a land lying alongside our own, concealed from human eyes. As earth tremors ravage the Hyddenworld, a child of two worlds is born, a lost gem is found and the Hyddenworld’s sleeping Emperor finally wakes. And he requires a powerful gem to sustain his stricken body and time-worn spirit. These events signal the end of a normal life for Jack and his daughter. Judith must find her path as a woman of two worlds, as her unwelcome destiny calls her to unite four powerful gems, so keeping the earth from darkness with their light. If she fails, both human and hydden worlds will face extinction. And to triumph, she must embrace the help of friends – and the love of her greatest friend of all.
  • Harvest (2012)
    Winter has been unleashed upon the Hyddenworld by an angry Earth. And Judith, now the Earth’s unwilling ally and shield maiden, is powerless to intervene. Then while both human and Hydden lands wither, humans find their way into this secret realm – to destroy all that winter’s storms haven’t undone. The Hydden city of Brum now faces its darkest days; joining its greatest enemy to combat invaders. But ultimately, survival depends on its champions – Jack, Katherine and scrivener Bedwyn Stort. If they can locate a last gem, burning with fire and magic, devastation may be averted. But if the jewel fails to reach Juliet before winter’s end, human and Hyddenkind will pay the price. Yet his quest will cost Stort dearly. It requires him to finally let Juliet go; the epic love that’s sustained him. There is a solution, but is this buried too deep, lost beneath ice and snow?
  • Winter (2013)
    Storms rage as the worst winter in living memory ravages the human and Hydden worlds. The prophesied End of Days is here and the universe is dying, yet only a few are even aware of the forces at work. Jack and Katherine must help their friend Bedwyn Stort halt this chaos by locating the last gem of Winter, something only he can do. Then it must be returned to the Earth’s unwilling guardian, their daughter Judith. She will need it to try and reignite the fires of the universe. Yet Stort is riddled with uncertainty. He yearns for Judith, as she does for him, but a love between mortal and immortal cannot be. To find the gem, he must solve this conundrum and vanquish death itself. But can he really lead mortalkind to salvation?

Critical acclaim

"An absolute spell-binder, by Lord of the Rings out of Watership Down. I found it enchanting, compulsive reading ... I am still haunted by its beauty" Magnus Magnusson

"His mole empire is a delight, his romantic tale full of adventure, suspense, battle and searchings" Publishers Weekly

"Altogether, Duncton Wood is a breathtaking achievement" Washington Post