PW: What prompted you to write an autobiography?
Dick King-Smith: About four years ago, I was having lunch with my literary agent, and he said, "You know, it's high time you wrote your memoirs." I said, "Oh, come on, that's self-indulgent rubbish." But he pressured me a bit, and then I started and it was rather fun.
PW: What audience did you have in mind when you decided to write this book, children or adults?
DKS: It was a tightrope that had to be walked. Obviously I wanted to appeal to my usual audience of child readers, and at the same time I wanted to make it interesting for adults. So I was really trying to scoop the lot, which is, of course, an impossibility; you're bound to walk off one side of the rope or the other. I walked it as carefully as I could.
PW: Did you keep journals throughout your life?
DKS: I didn't keep journals, but I kept a farm diary, which was really more about who had a calf or whether or not it was raining at haymaking [time]. There wasn't a lot of family detail, so when I came to write this book, I had to rely rather heavily on other people's memory—my brothers, my three children.
Also, I had a sort of trial run back in the beginning of my career. I didn't get my first book published until I was 57—I'm hardly an early starter—and my editor said, "Why don't you write a book about your farming days?" I tried, but I didn't quite get it right. It did provide a lot of material that I later used for Chewing the Cud, however.
PW: Was it fun to look back over the course of your life and see how it led to your becoming a writer?
DKS: What it boils down to is that I tried six what you might dignify by the title of careers, and five of them were flops, really. I started out as a soldier, and I wasn't a terribly good soldier, then I became a farmer and, when that packed in, I tried my hand at being a traveling salesman. This went on until at last I found something I was good at—when in doubt, try again!
My first children's book, The Fox Busters, was a classic case of pride coming before a fall. I went into a Bristol bookshop and saw it there and thought, "By golly, I'm a children's author! I'll write another and won't they be pleased!" So I wrote a second one, and my editor said, "It's not very exciting, is it? Can't you ginger it up a bit?" So I made [another], and she said, "I can't publish this, it's too bloodthirsty!" Then I wrote a pig book [Babe: The Gallant Pig], and finally got it right.
PW: What are you working on now?
DKS: My most recent book is Titus Rules [Knopf, Jan. 2003]. It's an affectionate look at the queen and her corgis. The Duke of Edinburgh has a starring role, and Prince Charles has a walk-on. I have a bit of fun at their expense. In it, the Duke addresses his wife as "Madge." The puppy can't understand why he calls her that, but it's short for "majesty."
PW: What do you hope readers will take away from reading Chewing the Cud?
DKS: One of the most important parts of the book was my relationship with my wife, Myrle. She died shortly before I finished it. We'd been married 56 years, so I hope readers come away with a sense of some of what we accomplished in our long marriage.