Friday, 17 August 2018

Writing and Drawing

So far, the writing for my book has progressed very slowly, yet constructively. The main challenge I face is one of project management: juggling all the elements and ideas into a cohesive act that works. One of the most helpful things has been to use a mind mapping app which allows me to build a flexible framework of key ideas and link them all in a chronological form.

Rather than write from beginning to end, I am dipping into writing small scenes randomly. This helps me to solve problems I would otherwise spend hours of thumb-twiddling trying to solve. For example, I realised I needed a vicar. I knew who I wanted, where they lived and the type of character they would present. As soon as I began placing them into a scene, they immediately didn't feel right. My whole vision then evolved into something quite different and much more in keeping with the vicarage and parish in which I imagined they would live.

Although I am not planning to illustrate the book, I have been scribbling in my lunch breaks this week and creating a couple of concept scenes. They are only rough and only meant for a bit of fun. The first picture is the kitchen of the vicarage mentioned above. It is a very unmodernised victorian kitchen, very rough around the edges and full of books, kitchen utensils, and other quirky things. There is a large range along one wall which will be an interesting thing to try and incorporate into the story.

The second picture captures the work of an elderly herbalist. I don't think I am calling her a witch even though she is surrounded by piles of what you might consider to be appropriate paraphernalia and cats. I haven't written about her yet so her character and setting haven't been thought about in detail. Originally there was only one cat. I drew it, didn't like it so then drew the others as an experiment and they seemed to fit.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Hitchin Sketch

Pen and ink sketch from my sketchbook drawn in Hitchin yesterday. Have been rather engrossed with thinking about my boook recently and have hardly done any drawing for the past month or two. It was a hot and sunny morning and I had loads of time to spare to work deeply into something.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Worcestershire Evening

I am sitting on a hillside in deepest Worcestershire hoping for a quiet evening after a busy day researching my book. The sheep in the fields around me have other thoughts and are ‘baaing’ everywhere. This hasn’t been helped by a farmer arriving to inspect his flock and, as a result, they all seem agitated. In the stillness of the air their calls are echoing around the small valley with quite an intense volume. Gradually they seem to be settling down and getting back to their grazing. Not that there is much to eat. The field that I am in was knee high with grass back in the spring and now it is a pale yellow-green; very dry with deep wide cracks in the drought affected clay soil. This particular field is too undulating to be cut for hay so the grass must have been filling sheep stomachs over the past few months. It is almost becoming hard to tell from a distance which fields are corn and which are grass as everywhere is so yellow. Potato and maize crops still look as though they are able to draw upon enough deeply buried water to maintain their foliage looking still quite healthy.
The nearby cider orchards in which I am camping for a couple of nights feel a different world. The deep pink/terracotta clay soil is still cracked dry, but the rows of trees and grass in look surprisingly luscious. I took a barefoot walk earlier between the trees and it was like walking on a soft cool carpet. The grass had not been mown for a while and wasn’t dry as elsewhere. The trees looked green and healthy too with a reasonable crop of apples forming. There must be more dampness deep down in the earth here with the trees helping to shade the soil. Nevertheless, they must still be drawing up a lot of water for fruit formation.
The two lines of poplars my father planted seem incongruous in the landscape. Two long rows of maybe fifty trees each are a deep dark green against the yellow pasture. Their job was to shelter the apple trees which were erased from the landscape long ago are now only a distant memory for certain people.


I’m back in the car now, refreshed after a cup of coffee and a few chocolate biscuits. I had to have quite a few because they had all stuck together in the heat of the sun on the car. The sun is setting over the hills directly in front of me and there is a clump of midges flying nearby. Apart from the sheep there is total quiet. Oh, there might be an occasional distant dog, pigeon cooing, tractor, bird… otherwise nothing.

Had a good walk, here are some highlights:
 * Found myself explaining why I was walking right past someone’s house not knowing that the footpath had been closed. Had friendly chat with owner
* Following a footpath sign that led right into an eight foot high impenetrable hedge.
* Discovering an enormous tree in the middle of nowhere which at first I though was a mature oak. Then I saw fruit growing on it. No idea what it was. Possibly a pear
* Walking barefoot in the apple orchards
* Walking though a field of 6ft tall thistles
* Noting down all the wild flowers, butterflies and birds I saw
* Finding several intriguing natural things that would be useful inspiration for my book
* Seeing dragonflies in the orchards
* Crossing a rather unstable wooden bridge with a 12ft drop below
* Wondering why a farmer had ploughed along the edge of a field of oats in, what seemed to me, to be an unusual way. Why go down one way, the come back the other so as to form a ridge of soil?
* Seeing what looked like two peregrine falcons
* Walking through a old unimproved pasture on the side of a hill, too steep to cultivate, and admiring the wealth of grasses, flowers, butterflies and grasshoppers.

 The sun has set, beautiful salmon coloured clouds. A breeze has got up. Will not sleep on grass tonight, will stay in shelter of car. A hare has just walked across the grass in front of me.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Garden in June

This year is the first year that I think the garden has settled down into something more stable and productive. It has taken a large amount of micro-management and subtle adjustment to get things how I want them. Starting all seeds off under cover is the only way to guarantee moderate success. So is a willingness to move things or plants that don't work in particular locations. The garden does seem a late garden and always feels a good couple of weeks behind those I see elsewhere. Perhaps because it is shaded all winter. Since our neighbours replaced their fence there are far fewer slugs and snails wandering into the garden from outside and it feels a much easier to manage the space.

Vegetables currently attempting to grow are: lettuces, radishes, kohl rabi, courgettes (yellow), cucumbers (climbing), raspberries, strawberries, celery, leeks, chard, dwarf beans, climbing beans, runner beans, spinach, romanesco cauliflowers, purple sprouting, tomatoes and carrots. Not huge amounts of each, but a healthy variety to see what works.

I managed to obtain a 6x8ft greenhouse from a neighbour. There was a slight challenge in releasing it from the undergrowth back in the spring as the photo shows. Now it is used as a garden feature and tomato/climber support. Attempting to reglaze it was not an option as much of the glass was broken and the frame bent out of shape. I am actually very pleased with it. The wooden planter inside the greenhouse is full of carrots which seem to be thriving high up away from ground pests.

After many years, the purchase of a new wheelbarrow was a welcome treat. One of my old ones is now a garden feature and home to mint and basil.

The plant growing up the right of the photo is a hop plant. It is now in its second year and seems to be doing well. It is a dwarf variety so will only grow to about 8 feet.

What I would like to do is see how much I can grow in the area I have and to gradually introduce different and creative planting techniques, not just plonking a plant in the ground. It needs to be interesting to look at, perhaps a little quirky and all executed subtly so that my wife doesn't complain!

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Writing a Book

I have started writing my novel. It is a big project and one that I am very excited about because it brings together all the things that actually interest me: creative writing, illustration, gardening, agriculture, folklore, landscape, nature, history and much more. It is basically about Worcestershire rural life 1850s to present, apples and strange goings on in the countryside. I'm not going to go into detail here at the moment because, if ever I get famous, no doubt people might read this in the future and find out things I may not want them to know. Or I could just delete this post!

Each day I am trying to add a little more here and there. Much of the work at the moment is in planning, reseach and trying to keep track of everything; and even remembering what I wrote a few days ago. I will write more soon.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Jenny's Garden

‘How do you feel about it all?’ Jenny asked.
‘Feel?’ Tippy seemed surprised by the question. ‘I’m feeling uncertain and a tiny bit apprehensive. It is about the direction my research is going. I have a suspicion that there is something going on behind my back. It’s difficult to put my finger on what it is exactly. When I was at Applegrove Farm yesterday I was sure there was someone else there in the background watching me. I could sense eyes following my every move. I get the impression that there is more going on around there than meets the eye. I don’t think I am being told the whole story.’
‘Is there one particular occasion that springs to mind?’ Sandy looked at him expectantly.
Tippy hesitated. Could he trust Jenny? He had known her since childhood and they kept in touch by meeting up every few years. Now, sitting in her garden, with a plate of delicious homemade scones with accompanying jam and cream, a little doubt began to cross his mind. Jenny lived in a large house in Leignton about an hours drive away to the north west. He wasn’t aware of her social connections coming from anywhere near Dansford so could he risk being open and honest with her? He decided to take the risk.
‘I went to the bakers in town this morning to buy a loaf of bread when Eddie Blackthorn walked past the shop window. He was about to enter when he saw me inside, hesitated and seemed to pretend he had to go elsewhere. When I left and crossed over the road, I saw him nip out of his car which was parked just a little way up the street and sneak back into the shop. Perhaps I am just imagining things, but people are very close and friendly most of the time; and then occasionally they seem to avoid me or not tell me things.’ Tippy paused as a text message pinged onto Jenny’s phone.

‘Hmm,’ Jenny pondered as she looked down to see who had texted her. ‘Have another scone. Just got to pop inside to check something…’