I wrote a post a couple of years ago called Recycling Words 2 in which I said I’d written a poem called Cousin Hugh which I turned into a short story (called Jack’s Lad, unpublished) but then thought I’d like to find out more about the characters and build something longer around them. Well, I did, and the result is my third People’s Friend serial A Time to Reap; it’s in eight instalments and begins in the issue dated 9 July 2016.
Aren't the illustrations great?
I don’t think I’ve enjoyed writing anything quite so much as this. It’s set in a Highland farming community in 1963. So, yippeee, one modern writerly problem was dispensed with right away – no need to worry about 21st-century methods of communication (about which I blogged here). And as I was brought up in such a community at that time there would be no requirement to do any research.
Or so I thought.
The main characters, including my heroine, farm manager Elizabeth Duncan, are of course grown-ups; I was nine in 1963 so I had to think from a different perspective. And just because you lived on a farm as a child doesn’t mean you know anything about how to be a farmer – especially if you were a child who spent most of her time indoors with her nose in a book.
Among the many questions I asked Google/long-suffering husband/farming relatives/fashion-expert friend/lawyer husband of (different) friend and a manual bought in a junk shop called The Farm as a Business: A Handbook of Standards and Statistics for use in Farm Management Advisory Work, published for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 1957, were:
How bad was that snowy winter 1962/63?
How would you look after your sheep in those conditions?
What would you be planting/harvesting in the different seasons?
Good reasons for expanding a dairy herd?
How do you persuade an angry bull into a pen?
What style/colour of dress would suit tall, fair-haired Elizabeth to wear to the gillies’ ball?
How much did it cost to send a letter in 1963?
Did you have to get a provisional driving licence?
Adoption law in Scotland at the time?
Symptoms of mastoiditis?
The short story version of this was from the point of view of a teenager who was helping to build a haystack. I realised I had no idea how to do that, although I had sense enough to think that there must be more to it than just piling up hay.
I asked a cousin, who farmed in those days, for advice, and he wrote me a lovely piece on the intricate art of haystack building. However, in the serial I didn’t have the young lad’s viewpoint so there was no way to sneak in a lesson on this dying art.
So with cousin Dave’s kind permission I shall be reproducing his instructions in a future post, the first of two guest posts to do with mid-20th-century farming.