The Raised Bed Diaries 2017

When I first started this blog, it was about two things: Dickie, my little blue Subaru, and gardening. I was never much into gardening when I was young – always much more interested in reading and writing and that sort of thing. But when we moved to the farm, I decided I wanted to try my hand at vegetable growing. So my dad made me a pair of raised beds out of old railway sleepers and got me a little greenhouse that every time a storm struck, all the glass blew out of. True to my bookworm roots I bought loads of books on veg growing and started out. The first year was quite successful, the second year somewhat so, and then the third year I had moved into my house and my weekends seemed to get filled up doing other things. Mum kept the beds going, but I hadn’t manured either of them since the beginning and our land is sandy, hungry land that doesn’t do much on its own.

This year I’m intending to fully embrace this country living! We’ll be lambing soon, I’ve done some solo shepherding and even done some cattle work on my own. I’ve been told I’m going to be taught how to drive the tractor and might get a go at something called “chain-arrowing” which to me sounds like something the Vikings might have done to their enemies but probably isn’t. I want to get back into gardening, especially as we have a bigger garden to soon look after in the other house.

So the other week I took an afternoon to go down to my Mum and Dad’s and think how to tackle these bad boys.

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As you can see, they weren’t in the best of states. Littered with old growth from last year, being taken over by grass and weeds, they were ready for a good clean up. So I dug all the rubbish up and had a good go at turning over the soil. We do have a problem with trees, as you can see from the photos, in that there are lots of them around and their roots go as far as under my beds. So if you dig down about a foot or less, you run into these never ending spindly roots which have already claimed one fork as a victim.

Nightmare!

But I persevered. Once everything was dug out, I went with my wheelbarrow into one of the fields where Scott and I had dumped a load of muck from the cow sheds and lambing sheds earlier on in the year. I got one barrow load and that did one bed. I dug it nicely in and turned over my soil, then levelled it all out and gave it a good watering as it had been a fairly long dry spell.

And now one bed looks like this!

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Much better! The soil is a little bit stony though I got most of the big bits out, and as you can see I still have a bit of an issue with invading grass. Not sure how to pull that bit out in the bottom right corner yet. But this bed is ready!

I hope to claim another afternoon to sort the other bed out, and my Mum very kindly got me two more barrow loads of muck before the farmer who currently works the land ploughed it all in. Then I can get to work on my greenhouse, which needs a good clean! Depending on how busy we are with lambing, I might be able to start a few seedlings off inside on windowsills – which is what I do for squashes, tomatoes and cucumbers.

The idea is to try and be self-sufficient, to as much of an extent as I can, and anything we have a surplus of to sell, either alongside our eggs from the farm or at the bottom of my Mum and Dad’s road end.

Some of you might know I’ve been finding it a bit difficult of late. There’s been a lot of things going on, things that are all new to me and over which I have little control, something which I do find hard to deal with. While I sacrificed writing time to concentrate on my garden, I have to say I really enjoyed this afternoon, and it really perked my spirits up. It is so important to take time for ourselves, and I really feel that doing this for my vegetable garden was time well spent, even if I had an aching back and screaming arms afterwards!

How are you guys getting on with your gardening? Have you started anything yet? Let me know!

World Book Day

It was World Book Day and if I was dressing up as someone out of literature I think I would have to be the Yorkshire Shepherdess, what with all the farming and such. We were up at the farm feeding up and tidying up and went to pick up a new calf, bringing our total to 7 (including the one with her mother). Only 3 are on milk so that’s not too bad. Where the calves are there is no running water so I have to lug a great drum of hot water about and it’s no easy task. My arms ache, especially when I can’t open the gate because the pin is too stiff for me, I can’t lift said drum over it because I’m too short, so instead I wedge it through the biggest gap in the fence I can find. It’s an ordeal, but looking after calves is my favourite bit so far so I don’t mind.

I think the Yorkshire Shepherdess is a fine person to look up to, and she’s certainly more relevant to World Book Day than the kid my mum saw in a Chelsea kit. The Chelsea Annual? Mmm, I think that’s pushing it a bit. Whenever I’m up at the farm and it’s chucking it down or I’m tired or struggling (read most days), I think to myself what would the Yorkshire Shepherdess do, and I find a reserve of strength (aka desperation) and I get on with it. I’m usually told off later for doing something wrong but I’m sure there are worse things that could happen.

But we all know farming isn’t my big interest. Oh, no. The big thing is the writing thing.

I have 3 weeks to finish my first book in my self-imposed deadline, in time for the How to Get Published conference at the York Literature Festival. I have about 12-15 chapters left to write, depending on how fast I can write/how ruthless I can be. Considering I’ve just written Chapter Twenty-Seven, which in my previous draft corresponded to Chapter Forty-Five, I don’t think I’ve done too bad in my cutting frenzy. It’s hard to fit writing in alongside everything else there is to do: the farm, feed calves, keep the house clean, do washing, rush about getting clothes in when it rains, cook tea, endless reams of washing up, panic about money and how I’m going to pay bills. I’m also going to be starting to work again come April, and before that there’s lambing to worry about. I stuck to my 500 words a day goal, but I think I might have to up it to at least 1500 a day, just so I can get some text down.

Part of developing as a writer is of course being a reader. I love reading – always have done, always will do. I studied Literature at uni at undergraduate and postgrad levels, have filled three houses up with books. As an only child, reading was a way to occupy myself when there was nobody about to play with (until I got a Gameboy, and then catching Pokemon was so much more exciting, but even then, I think I enjoyed reading the strategy guide more than playing the actual game). Reading seemed to naturally lead to writing. When I didn’t have my own stories and characters in my head, I rewrote existing stories, an exercise that helped me in turn appreciate story arcs, purpose and intent.

Being currently a frugal writer on a strict budget, there’s no space for book buying. Saying that, I did go to the second hand bookshop in Pickering a few weeks ago and buy two of Terry Brooks’s Shannara books (can anyone tell me if Book 1 is essential, as I’ve heard it’s vastly different to the subsequent two?). As part of my Goodreads Challenge I’m trying to read books I already have. In my early twenties, while most girls frittered their money away on posh makeup and going out dresses and holidays here, there and everywhere, little old me spent hers on books, music and car insurance. Hence why I can fill three houses with books and CDs and part a car at each house. Not that Millie the Puma can move at the moment.

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I know some people see reading as a waste of time, but the same could be said for watching TV, movies, sitting on Facebook. I use reading in a similar way that I write: for a moment, an evening, half an hour in the bath, I can completely forget my own silly little life and petty problems, and immerse myself in other peoples’ lives. Stories touch us in different ways and there are some books that I feel have changed my life, or my viewpoint, or have opened my eyes – The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, If This is a Man by Primo Levi, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, plus countless others. I’ve read His Dark Materials at so many different points in my life and each time it speaks to me in a different way, a huge accomplishment for what is often simply categorised as a children’s book.

Also, so excited about Philip Pullman’s next series about Lyra!

When I have a child, alongside that child running around outside, playing and learning, understanding the importance of time, and money, and kindness, and gratitude, I will spend time reading with them. I have my mother’s set of Narnia books that she had as a girl and those will go to this as yet imaginary child. And of course if writing is to be (as I hope) my occupation, I’d like my child to understand the worth of that, and the importance of imagination, even if they have no desire to write (which is OK too).

So books are important, yay? I have big plans to make a study/library in Grandad’s house, and that will be my writing cave, where behind closed doors, the magic will (hopefully) happen.

Katy

My Goodreads Challenge – February Review, Burial Rites

So February has been and went and true to my goals, I finished my book for the second month of the year, and this time it was Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. I’ve had this book on my bookshelf for a good long time and never picked it up so I thought now was as good time as ever. I must admit I think my enjoyment of it was certainly marred by the fact I started reading Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being and was utterly wrapped up in that.

Burial Rites is one of those books that was nominated for awards and was on everyone’s TBR list. There was a lot of hype and if everybody didn’t have a copy in their bag, they knew somebody who did. The story sounded compelling, and it fit into a perfect period of time: Nordic/Scandi thrillers, female-led murder mysteries. If it had been called The Girl in Iceland it might have sold even more.

Kent is only a young writer – one of these that have done Creative Writing XYZ and I’m not bitter at all (I half-wanted to do Creative Writing but everybody I spoke to about it scared me away from it with pitchforks and burning torches so there you go). The story is indeed compelling, about the consequences of a murder that has already happened in 19th century Iceland, of all places. Like Colman’s The Rule, a young writer from my neck of the woods, the barren, cold setting is winningly created with effective, sparse prose. I didn’t like the font the book was published in, which is ridiculous I know but when that’s what you’re staring at, it can really bug you if the story doesn’t drag you in and overpower you completely.

And this didn’t. I found it hard to get into for the first half of the book. There were a lot of viewpoints to follow, and the wet assistant reverend wasn’t my favourite of characters to follow, especially when he missed a lot of the action. Agnes, the central character and the only one with a first person POV, was the most interesting, but even when she told us the truth of the murder for which she was convicted and awaiting the death penalty, I didn’t feel gripped by her story. Based on true events, the narrative was haunted by unchangeability, and that was purposeful of course, but it felt like hopes were being raised every so often, all for nothing.

Kent is a good writer, but I felt the two daughters of the family Agnes stayed with were underdeveloped, bit players in the calm before the storm. Their mother was the strongest character, plagued by a cough, and I was happy she didn’t die in the end. As a newbie to farming, it was comforting to read familiar events and tasks in a cold, unforgiving environment. I think our technology on the farm isn’t much more advanced than theirs!

I haven’t picked my March book yet but it will be something short as I’m a little pressed for time. I’m trying to finish my own book before the end of the month plus we have a lot going on at the farm. I also started re-reading Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Assassin (Book 1 of Fitz and the Fool) after I finished Burial Rites, ready to start on Book 2 soon. Robin Hobb is one of my favourite writers, not just fantasy but overall. I’ve read lots of her trilogies and series, but I think Fool’s Assassin has been the hardest to get into. Fitz as a narrator is always compelling and sucks you into both his world and his thoughts, however in this book not a great deal happens over the first half. A plot point is introduced in chapter 1 and not picked up again, and instead we spend a lot of time with Fitz and Molly, and later Bee, in their home life. If I remember rightly, action picks up again, and I’m excited to see where that leads.

Valentine’s Day

I had every intention of making a Halloween post, but then I spent the night chasing loose cattle around the village, so that didn’t happen. It’s been a very busy, intense couple of days and we’re feeling it now, but I messed around on my iTunes yesterday and made an “alternative” playlist of romantic songs.

I made it into a Spotify playlist, and listened to it while I was cooking tea.

I got some very beautiful roses for Valentine’s Day. My first ever Valentine’s flowers! However in an uncharacteristic show of forward-planning (or unplanning), I had wrapped up all my vases, so at 5.30 this morning we were looking for alternatives. I think we did alright, don’t you?

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As much as Valentine’s Day is a day to spend with loved ones, I’m going to jump on the self-love craze as well. In our busy lives it’s very easy to forget ourselves. As someone who feels pressure and gets anxious very easily, I’m trying to take more time for me in the day. That’s not very easy in the lifestyle I now lead, and sometimes I have to force myself to put that laundry basket down and just take five minutes to do what I want: read a chapter of a book, have a nice drink, light a candle. Today I was feeling particularly glum so when I ran my bath I threw the last of my Joules fizzy bath bombs in. It made the bathwater go radioactive yellow but it was a nice relaxing time for me. It’s very easy to get caught up in everyone else’s lives. Things like Facebook and Instagram make it very easy to feel in competition with your peers, and sometimes we need to take a step back and rediscover what we enjoy in life. I took Bilbo for a walk this afternoon and even got Valentine’s Day kisses off my doggy.

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Happy Valentine’s Day, one and all!

 

A Tale for the Time Being – Review

I do believe that sometimes we read books at a particular point in our lives for a reason – whether it reflects something within us, or something we are looking for. I’m heavily in the re-drafting process of my first book and I think I needed to read something awe-inspiring, just to really inject that spark back into it. This book turned out to be Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being.

Continue reading “A Tale for the Time Being – Review”

#my500words reflection

So, after a month of trying to stick to writing 500 words a day minimum, how have I done?

Well, there were a couple of days where I didn’t write anything, despite all my best intentions. Sometimes it just happens like that – there might be a lot of things going on at the farm, and by the time we get home I just collapse on the sofa. There was some success with getting up a bit earlier and managing my 500 words before breakfast, but other days I could snatch some time before cooking tea. A few days it would be the bare 500 I could manage, however I’m happy to say a lot of days it was a good more than 500.

In total, over the month I wrote 14 chapters, so it averages out as just under a chapter per two days. Some of these chapters are barefaced edits – straight rewrites of previous chapters I have been happy with. Others have had to be complete overhauls. And I have been quite ruthless. A lot of chaff has been cut. To put it into real terms, I’m writing what is now Chapter Seventeen, but in the second draft equated to about Chapter Twenty-Five. There are still one or two chapters that I have rewritten that could potentially be for the chop. And within the chapters themselves, I’ve gone from a single chapter easily exceeding 10,000 words to a much more realistic 5,000. My only concern is I’ve maybe been a little overenthusiastic with my executioner’s axe!

I’ve really enjoyed taking part in #my500words. More than anything else, it’s been a personal motivator, and it’s worked. There were 69 chapters in total for #MFB (make of that what you will). If I can manage to cut 7 out of the first 25, maybe I can do the same over the next part. We are however coming to the end of the part that was for me the most indulgent. I’ve had to do some serious chopping and changing to streamline this part, but at least now I’m happy with its continuity, and I feel it reads a good deal better.

So I will continue with writing a minimum of 500 words a day. I have a feeling I will hit something of a mental block in a few chapters’ time, as previously I have had issues with timing and locations for my character, so if I miss a day of writing, I would hope it’s for the sake of ironing out some continuity issues.

How is your writing going? Are you on track? Do you have any motivational tools you use to help you get on? If you do, I’d love to hear them!

Katy

Writing Goals for 2017

A couple of days ago I did something quite major for me, and booked myself a place at the How To Get Published conference, part of the York Literature Festival. I think all the ladies in my Writing Group will be attending, so it should be a good day. It’s a full day packed full of talks and discussions, not to mention a panel of writers and literary agents (!) I’m hoping it will be really helpful.

I’ve always written but never had the confidence to go to anything like this before. Last year I went to a free talk as part of York’s Festival of Ideas (and I wrote about it here) and that was all about the benefits of a Writing Group, which is how I found my group. After attending the sessions I’ve got a bit more confidence about myself, so I bit the bullet and booked myself on the conference.

The conference is at the end of March which gives me just over 2 months to get my act together and *finish* the third draft of #MFB. It also coincides with a new time in my calendar, that of lambing. Now granted we don’t know when this will start or how long it will go on for, but as far as I know the world stops for lambing time. So my idea is to get this third draft bossed by then, so I can a) have lambing time to distance myself from it and approach it afterwards with new eyes, and b) have something in a form like finished to talk to agents about.

So that’s one goal for 2017. But I have some others, and I figured if I wrote them here and stuck them on the internet I might actually have to honour them, as opposed to having them in my brain and thus easy to forget.

  • Writing Goals for 2017
  • Finish draft three of #MFB
  • Draw maps for locations in #MFB
  • Set up a Facebook page to directly link my writing progress with my social media
  • Work on my blog, including updating the images and dividing it into ‘writing’ and ‘blog’
  • Increase my activity on social media
  • Attend more writing and literature events (online and in person)
  • Enter some competitions
  • Look at #MSB and decide on how old my protagonist is going to be

I think that’s enough to keep me going for the year! Who knows – things might change. I’m really excited about the conference but it’s a long way off yet and I have lots to be doing before then.

Do you have any writing goals this year? Maybe you’re going to the conference too! Let me know!

Katy

My Reading Challenge 2017 – January recap

So at the beginning of this year I decided I would read more. I have three houses full of books now and it’s high time some of them got read! So I set myself a relatively easy goal: 12 books in the year, 1 book a month. I went through my bookcase in my house and picked 12 books. Some are fiction, some are non-fiction. Some are brand new, some are second-hand shop finds. The idea is to read 1 a month. If I finish that month’s book early, I won’t read the next one for the month. Then I’ll have to pick another book up. A good solid plan.

January’s book was The Magicians by Lev Grossman. A former coworker of mine used to rave about this book and I thought it sounded right up my street: a magic university? What happens when Harry does his degree. I’m a big fantasy fan and I like me a good bit of magic realism too, so I was happy to start off with this one. Continue reading “My Reading Challenge 2017 – January recap”

Reflections from the farm

A million years ago, I started this blog with the catchy title of notmuchofayoungfarmer. This was a play on words because I was a member of our local Young Farmers’ group, lived on a farm, and knew diddly squat about farming. It’s one of those commonly-known but never spoken of truths that if you join Young Farmers and aren’t an avid tractor man or a shepherd, it’s a way of meeting the opposite sex. I went along to the meetings, got roped into stock judging, and then life caught up with me, and I was doing a Masters and working in Hull, and it just didn’t compute. So I sacked Young Farmers off and embarked on an ill-fated quest to become a teacher. That didn’t last long either.

Hmm. Seeing a trend…

Moving swiftly on!

My blog was to be a support for my writing. However by a stroke of luck or fate or whatever, I find that I’ve boxed up my court shoes and smart skirt suits and have swapped them for wellies and jeans covered in mud. Looks like I’m back to being a Young Farmer, and probably too old to rejoin.

I still don’t know anything about farming, but I now know what a tup is, and what it means when the sheep in the fields have coloured bottoms, and I’m starting to get my head around the different breeds of cows, and when it’s correct to say cow and not something else.

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Personal highlights from the farm include:

  • Getting stuck halfway up Grimston hill in a pickup without diesel, and then being rescued by some kindly gentlemen in a white van – whoever you are, thank you!
  • Also that same week, locking my car keys in the boot and having to bang on doors until a kindly family down the road let me use their phone! It’s a bugger when there’s no phone signal.
  • Seeing our Angus heifer calve to a beautiful baby Hereford x! I think that’s the first thing I’ve seen brought into the world before my very eyes, and by the time we’d got there she’d done most of it herself. She’s a grand little calf with real stunning markings.
  • Bucket-feeding our other three calves and now they’re weaned off and are big strong lads.
  • Getting our tractor! She’s a Case International and is a little nippy four wheel drive thing which suits us just fine, though I do bang my head on every piece of metal in the cab.

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It is hard. I’m only little and not particularly strong, and while I am getting a bit stronger, I still struggle to lug 25kg bags of feed about. And before we got the tractor, it was bloody hard work getting bails of straw and hay down off the great piles for the cattle with just us two, a fence post for leverage and the pickup for the most stubborn bails. And let’s be honest, when you’re chopping fodder beet in the pouring rain and Arctic blast, it’s not that fun. I get muddy by just looking at the yard, my car stinks of mucky wellies, and my arms ache for days, but when everything’s fed and watered, and bedded up, and the yard is blissfully quiet, and the little calf is bouncing around her mother, it isn’t a bad place to be at all.

I will update with more of our adventures as they come.

Katy