Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Finally... out in print!

My excuse for not having blogged for six months is that I have been rather busy finishing, and now publicising, my first novel! Still can't quite believe that when I write it...

I have been writing fiction since I was a child, filling exercise books with excruciatingly bad stories complete with lavish illustrations, so I suppose it's no surprise that I have ended up being a commercial writer and designer. But my yearning was always to be a ‘proper’ writer, a writer of stories, a writer of novels!

My first novel, ‘A Sticky End’, is a joint effort with my old friend Joanna Sheen. We have attended many writing groups and writing courses together but never quite managed to finish a novel. I’ve written short stories, and even radio plays and some 60,000 words of a memoir that never got past the ‘two thirds sag’ stage – one of many nasty afflictions that seem to plague writers.

Joanna, who didn’t build up her own very successful business without being a bit of workaholic, announced last year that we ought to try and write a book together. I heard the smack of the thrown gauntlet as it hit the table, and I flinched a bit. Work together? I was not sure about that… we had collaborated on a radio play once before, and that had gone fairly well (although the BBC didn’t much like it)… but a whole novel?

Well, nine month later, it’s fair to say that had we not bullied and chivvied each other relentlessly, the novel would not have been finished. There have been tantrums along the way (mine), arguments about the cover design (me again) and last minute changes to the names of characters (I’ll hand that one to Joanna), but as a ‘process’, writing it jointly has definitely worked.

Next Tuesday, 1st October, Joanna and I are meeting up again to start planning book two in the Swaddlecombe Mysteries series! We’ve both got ideas about where Victoria and Albert go next, so much plotting will be taking place over Joanna’s kitchen table during the next few weeks… and then the writing will begin in earnest.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Signs of life...

Very protective mother and her lamb in Pond Field.
It's a grey and cold morning, but there are encouraging signs of life everywhere. The piercing cry of a buzzard cheered me as I toiled up the lane with the dog. I love watching them soar on the thermals, their huge pale wings and their sharp eyes. Their cry always takes me back to when I very first moved here and would lie in bed and hear them early on summer mornings, the sound still unfamiliar and slightly unnerving but an exciting reminder of my new life 'in the country'. I'd go to sleep to the sound of owls hooting and wake with a buzzard's cry - wonderful.

Primroses have been brightening the garden for weeks as have hellebores in their lovely understated way. Other than that, the garden is pretty desolate. But once on the farm, there's lots happening. Green shoots pushing through the dry and faded beech leaves and, of course, the bleat of lambs. These tiny little beings always stir such a mix of emotions in me. They are the sweetest things, so appealing and comical as they bounce and leap in all directly seemingly without any control over their legs. I think it was Alf Wight (AKA James Herriot the vet) who said lambs were the most gorgeous babies, but they grew into the most boring adults - or words to that effect.

Mr Mole has been busy. Farmer Greg will not be happy!
My enjoyment of the lambs is always tempered by the rescues I've had to perform over the years. Many are comical (lambs' heads stuck in fences, lambs legs wedged between branches, lambs in water troughs etc.) and usually successful, but there have been quite a few disasters too. Even after all this time, I am still soft-hearted and get upset when they die or are terribly injured and if it's one I've missed by not heeding a cry, or not going in a particular field for a few days, I feel so guilty. And they're not even my sheep!

But despite all that, the signs of spring are magical, nature stirring into life. The novelty never wears off and, I suspect the older I get, the more I appreciate it. This morning, evidence of a very industrious mole could be seen all over the top of First Park, Greg will be cursing and possibly even stamping on his hat - but that is usually reserved for the burrowing badgers. ("They beggars, why can't they dig in the hedge like they'm supposed to and not come rampagin' out here and diggin' in my fields?")

Poke your eye out!
Neil has been busy logging and tidying around the farm and dragged into the garden a large limb that had come off a willow. It was covered in catkins and, rather than watching them wither and I die, I produced a ridiculously large 'arrangement' (if you can call it that) which now requires careful 
manoeuvring around the kitchen table to avoid poking your eye out.

Later, I must nip out and start netting the veg beds. Already, shallots and garlic are sprouting well and the birds and next door's cat are causing havoc. It's all very competitive out there!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A rambling walk, or a walk while rambling...

Sunday 13 January, how lovely to see a clear sky and some winter sun this morning, it immediately lifts the spirits. Just as I went into the chickens’ run, the church bells from the town rang out, a good mile away, and floated down the valley. Their sound then seemed to be coming from the other direction, we get very strange acoustings in this valley sometimes! The fact that I could hear the bells meant a north wind. But did I go back inside and get a scarf - of course not!

The back lane and its beech leaf carpet.
The dog walk was lovely, with the crisp, golden sunlight throwing everything into sharp relief. The back lane, still with its carpet of beech leaves – they never really go, simply get re-arranged by the wind and rain up and down this lovely old sheltered path – was gorgeous to see. The beech hedge, bare now, was all texture and colour but then it has the capacity to look wonderful at any time of the year.

And it doesn’t just look wonderful, it also sounds wonderful. In spring, the new bright green leaves flutter gently like small wings. In summer it purrs and sighs as the full leaves move in the breeze. Come autumn it rustles and hisses as the paper-dry leaves rattle in then wind. Then, in winter, it roars and thunders as gales tear through its bare branches.

Cromwell's Knob.
As I got to the top of the back lane, the beech behind me, the wind kicked in and I regretted the lack of a scarf. My damp gloves - stuffed in my pockets overnight after a hideously wet and muddy walk in mid Devon yesterday - chilled my hands very efficiently!

At this point, the view to the left, down the Wray Valley is a favourite, the curious little hill I’ve christened ‘Cromwell’s Knob’ and then the valley fading away into the distance was this morning stark and dramatic.

Cormwell's Knob last winter...
will we see this snowy view again this year?
Cromwell’s Knob? There was a lot of activity in this area during the civil war - Moretonhampstead being dull old roundheads and Chagford, as you would expect, being cavaliers and making the most of all the flouncy clothes and flowing locks! Cromwell is supposed to have rallied his troops near here and I always think the little knoll would have made a good spot for his warty features to have been viewed by the locals as they gathered round in readiness to go and kill each other…

I digress. Marching down across Pond Field with Tilly running round like an idiot after the ball, in the distance, Moretonhampstead seemed hunkered down against the hillside, shrinking from the chill north wind. A bank of pewter cloud lurked over the moor threatening yet more rain. But to the south, it was still clear and sunny.

On arriving back in the garden, it was lovely to be greeted by the contented sound of chickens doing their morning ‘thing’. This involves scratching at the earth with great enthusiasm, viciously picking mites and other unmentionables off each other and generally ambling about in a vague manner. All this is accompanied by a delightful soft babbling of ‘pocking’ and ‘pucking’ sounds, like chattering old ladies at a coffee morning. Their different voices are fascinating - sometimes raucous, sometimes irritatingly repetitive - but today, in the winter sunshine, contented and gentle and happy.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A weird harbinger of spring...!

Well, you have to give her 10 out of 10 for effort! None of my five hens has laid an egg for about two months - combination of short daylight hours, dismal weather and their old age.

Yesterday, after a few glimpses of sun, one of them heaved out this weird offering. When Neil first brought it in, it was whole, but with a patchy, sandy texture, and a curious bump on one end.

This morning, the sub-standard eggshell finish has cracked in the warmth of the house and the whole thing looks rather sorry for itself. Still, I will regard this as a harbinger of spring, even if a slightly unsightly one!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A tale of derring-do, lambs and my jeans...

Here we go again. No blogs for months, then two at once.

This is a fairly typical bouncy fat lamb, very naughty.
As most readers know, I am not a mother and not much given to maternal instinct. Give me a puppy instead of a baby anytime, quite frankly. Yet over the years it has become apparent that I have a peculiar affinity with lambs. I've no time for sheep, stupid things, but lambs... they are terribly sweet and so well-meaning but, when all’s said and done, not too bright either.

By some peculiar twist of fate in among the general noise of farm life I can distinguish a 'bah' or a 'bleat' that says 'help' from all the other bah-ing that’s going on. I’ve fished out lambs from pools of pooh, I’ve pulled them out of brambles, from between hedges and fences and extracted their trapped legs from branches, hedges, gates - you name it, I’ve done it. But by far the most popular lamb rescue is the 'head in the fence' job.

This was one of my first livestock encounters when I moved her some 17 years ago. I’d been kept awake all one summer’s night by the repetitive, rather sonorous, ‘bah’ of a lamb in the field behind the house. Unable to stand it any longer, I’d marched out at 5am to find it stuck fast with its head in the fence.

Now, fencing on farms is an interesting subject - believe me, it is. They clearly play
a key role in the very structure and life of a farm and yet farmers seem to have a totally cavalier attitude towards them. If a fence falls down, prop it up in a half-hearted manner. If a hole appears, stick something totally unsuitable in the gap, like an old wooden pallet, or better still, try lashing it together with bailer twine.

Greg, of course, is the past master at fence mending. He has fences that would earn Tracey Emmin a Turner prize. He could probably stage his own exhibition at Tate Modern given the chance. No gap is too large or gateway too small to be half-blocked up and rendered useless with bits of corrugated iron, old hurdles, broken bits of farm machinery and, of course, yards and yards of bailer twine.

I digress, anyway on a livestock farm, fencing will generally be of pig (larger) or sheep (smaller) netting - wire fencing made of squares, think of it as the big brother of chicken wire - topped off with strands of barbed wire. Effective as a fence, yes, but I never cease to be amazed at how accurately the manufacturers must have taken measurements to exactly fit the head of a sheep. Brilliant!
The sheep, or big lamb in most cases, sees an irresistible blade of grass and just has to have it as it’s better than any other blade of grass in the vicinity. Trouble is, it’s the other side of the fence. This is no problem for the sheep as its head fits snuggly through the nice squares in the fence. Well, it does when it reaches through with its head at an angle. Very comfy. The trouble comes when it wants to get out again.

As the lamb attempts to reverse the move, the backs of its ears come into contact with the square sides of the netting. So it stops. It is quite beyond the wit of a lamb to turn its head at an angle as it can’t see behind it, nor to understand that its ears do actually have a bit of ‘give’ in them. So, there it stands, in its mind trapped by some dreadful device that has crept up behind it and accosted its ears.

And so the bah-ing starts.

My first sheep rescue was rather unbecoming. Dressed randomly in whatever was around, it being 5am, I tentatively approached the lamb (these are big woolly lambs, not the little bouncy sweet things you see at Easter) and attempted to wrench its head out. At which point my (slightly) superior intellect realised I needed to turn its head to get it on the diagonal for the extra space. Not being au fait with livestock at this stage in my ‘countrification’, I got astride the lamb as I rather cautiously turned its head to release it.

Having spent all night trapped you’d think it would be:
A. tired and B. extremely grateful.
Not a bit of it. Having been thrusting itself wildly into the fence to try and escape as I approached, the moment it was free it shot backwards with great strength and speed and then legged it to join its pals. I was unceremoniously dumped on my backside in a dew-soaked field in slippers and shorts well before breakfast time.

The one on the right is showing its teeth, very amusing,
well, to me anyway...
Well, the latest lamb incident occurred on Friday. As Tilly and I sauntered back down the hill, my finely-tuned ear picked up the ‘bah’ of an unhappy sheep. I located it up in the field near the gate onto the Back Lane.

“Hello,” I said rather pointlessly as sheep aren’t known for their conversation, “You’ve got your head stuck, haven’t you?”

“Bah,” came the reply from above me. I staggered up the steep path to the old metal gate (nicely tied in place and unable to open). As I climbed over the gate, I heard a ripping sound - ‘Hmmmm’ I thought. The trapped sheep was, by this time, doing the ‘flinging itself into the fence’ routine in a desperate bid to force its entire body through the small square of netting.

“Stop that!” I commanded and grabbed two handfuls of fleece and shook it. This always seems to stop them struggling and they then, unhelpfully, go limp. Remembering not to stand astride it, I reached forward, deftly flicked back the left ear turned its head and pulled it out. It all took about 5 seconds. I must say, I was pretty impressed by my technique, honed over all the years. The rescued lamb proceeded to bounce a couple of times, as they do, and then bolted away to join its pals.

Job done, and feeling rather heroic, I clambered back over the gate, to a further ripping sound accompanied this time, by a sudden thrill of cold metal on flesh. My jeans had rent asunder and I could truly claim to have managed the latest lamb rescue by the seat of my pants. Damn it.

Autumn is definitely here...

Oh for goodness sake! It's such a long time since I managed a blog, it's just taken me 10 minutes to work out how to create a new one... honestly... anyway, with no further ado, here it is.

Moretonhampstead in the distance

Autumn is definitely here. This morning’s dog walk was glorious, the air crisp and the sunshine brilliant, with everything in high-definition glistening with the morning dew.

The wildlife was very active, lots of rustling in the hedgerows and small shapes flitting about, always just out of view… the cold mornings must kick-start their winter preparations. In the wall at home, our bank vole is rushing around industriously gathering his supplies for the winter months.

At the top of the back lane, I stopped and leant against the gate to enjoy one of my favourite views down the Wray valley. The sheep in the field were dozy in the sunshine and stood about looking as if they’d only just woken up. Deep shadows in the foreground, and the view disappearing in the very strong sunlight… this view includes the lovely little hill - it’s almost conical, with a tree growing on the top - that I refer to as Cromwell’s Knob. Oliver is reputed to have massed his troops in that area, and I always fancy he would have done it on the little hill as it’s such a good vantage point. Complete nonsense probably as anymore than 20 or so people and they probably wouldn’t fit and I think Mr Cromwell had a pretty healthy following in this part of the world.

Middle barn looking lovely, if decrepit, in the morning sun
Above me in, the beech hedge, a robin started singing - such a magical sound. Another bird nearby, I think a wren, politely waited for the robin to stop and then performed a little solo of its own, before letting the robin carry on.

I’ve never paid much attention to birds but now I’m aware of them all the time - clearly an age thing. I am much more aware of nature around me everywhere these days, I find it far more interesting than anything else, it’s so endlessly fascinating and birds in particular, are so diverse. I’m quite good at identifying them, but I need to brush up on their songs as I’m never sure who’s singing unless I can see them, like the robin.

Study birdlife and you’ll see our own world in miniature - the youngsters fighting to make their mark and define their territory, all the punch-ups over sex… the home-making, feeding and protecting the young, the bullying robins, the chattering blue tits, the murderous sparrowhawk… and so it goes on in a glorious colourful, feathery, twittery world.

The air was so clear this morning all the colours were vibrant, the lichen on the middle barn was a deep ochre and the sky the most stunning blue.

Sheep in Pond Field, chewing ernestly...
As I finished the walk, the sheep were all lazing about under one of trees in Pond Field, chewing peacefully and taking no notice of Tilly or myself, all very serene and pastoral. Definitely one of those mornings when you want to run around like an idiot whooping and rejoicing in the beauty of it all. Needless to say, I didn't... I just plodded home and had some coffee. but it has lifted the spirits enormously.

These days for convenince, I tend to only take my iPhone with me, so the quality of the photos is a bit average. Once it gets misty and more interesting, I might venture out with the 'proper' camera and take some decent shots... watch this space....

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Guest Blog: Tilly introduces herself...

Due to work pressures, I have been unable to write my blog, so I am going to call upon the occasional guest blogger.

The first is Tilly Wherrell. She is an eight-year old bitch of indeterminate parentage, and comes from nearby Bridford. She has lived with us since she was two and I can honestly say life has never been quite the same since…

Dog Blog
“Hiya!!!!!! How exciting is THIS!! Wow! She’s actually letting me have a go - been wanting to have a bark on the blog for ages!

Well, what can I tell you about myself? Um… well I am black with four very white paws and a white tummy - I am pretty cute!! I’m really, really fussy about my appearance and I like to look my best! I am the only dog here now, the Old One went to sleep a while ago so I get ALL the fuss, which is just great!!

I live with Her and Him. She says I am neurotic - I don’t know what this is, but as it’s got ‘new’ in it, I think that means it must be good! He says I am ‘A bloody nuisance” and always tells me to “Calm down”. I’ve no idea what either of these things mean, but he says it a lot - so I think that must be really good too!!!!!

When I get too, too excited, my teeth chatter. The old bloke that comes here, they call him The Old Git, he says my teeth “Go like castanets”. I don’t know what these are either, but it makes Him laugh so they must be really funny things. I get excited A LOT so I clack my teeth A LOT and sometimes I quiver all over - and that’s just amazing!!

What else can I tell you about me? Um… well, what about some of my likes and dislikes? I like my dinner, oh yes I do! I love the biscuits, I love the meat and I really love the yogurt!

I tell you something I don’t like - I don’t like that big black thing in the lounge that they put bits of wood in. It makes crackling noises and when they open the doors there’s all this orange stuff jumping about inside. I always go and hide in Her office when they start using that thing. I don’t really know why they do it. I mean, what’s the point? They sit in front of it and they fall asleep, so it isn’t any fun at all.

I like chasing my ball - actually I LOVE it! They have a thing they use to help them throw the ball further - and that’s really good! He throws it ever so, ever so far! Sometimes, so far that I can’t see where it lands! He’s really funny then, ’cos He jumps up and down and He makes lots of noise and often waves His arms about and points! I just love that - such fun! I run round and round to amuse Him. But even though I try my best to encourage Him, He never seems to be able to find the ball again. I think he might be a bit stupid sometimes. Funny, but stupid.

I always try to be really, really helpful, but I think sometimes I get it wrong - LOL!!! The other day we went and stood in a field and He made loads of noise with this thing called a chainsaw and cut up the trees that had fallen down. She was there picking up bits of wood and putting them in the car - how weird is that? Why would you want to put the tree in the car?! I mean, come on!! At one point, She said “Why is that stupid dog frightened of the fire, but is happy to stand next to a working chainsaw?” She is stupid. She just doesn’t understand how a dog’s mind works.

Anyway, I started helping by picking up the wood and moving it too. I was getting pretty good at it I can tell you, and I’d built up my own little pile of wood right in the middle of a nice muddy bit - then She comes over shouting and waving Her arms about (very funny!) and the next thing, She’s on the ground next to me - which was just hilarious! She called me a ‘ bloody nuisance’ which I know is a good thing to be, and rubbed Her knee where She fell down. So I gave her a really big lick, right in the eye, and then I stuck my nose in her ear! It was great! She thought so too as She jumped up really quickly and started playing and running after me!

I do like to make them happy if I can. For instance, when I get to sit next to Him on the sofa, which isn’t very often as She is usually there… I sometimes lean against him and then I stick my tongue right in His ear! This is fantastic! He has furry ears, a bit like me, and when I do it, He jumps up and goes “Urgh!” and “Argh!” and shouts things like “That’s so disgusting!!” and I love it!

I wag my tail a lot. And I mean A LOT. I am just a happy sort of girl!! They love this too, especially when they have Others in to visit. I love to go round and say “Hello” to them all, and I clack my teeth and I smile and I wag my tail and they all shriek and grab those clear things they drink out of and some of them jump up! There’s often a sort of smashing noise and they run about even more and bring cloths and start crawling around on the floor rubbing the carpet - so of course I give them a lick!! It’s just too much fun!! I am the centre of the party - LOL!!!!!

After that, I quite often find myself shut in Her office. It’s cosy and I have a bed under Her desk. That’s how I know about the Blog things as she talks about it so much. But that’s just like Her, she always talks about it, but never seems to do it. They are funny - honestly!!

Right, well it’s time for my afternoon walk now, so I’ll go and prod Him to remind him. He’s got a terrible memory you know.

Bye for now
Tilly xxxxxxxx