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. IĀ 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

Two weeks into #my500words, and a missed day

One of my big aims for the year is to nail Draft Three of #MFB and be in a position to maybe tentatively send it off to people who read and make dreams come true. I started #my500words this January, aiming to write 500 words a day for 31 days, and it went really, really well until yesterday, when I wrote nothing. I should have known I was doomed when I tweeted about how well my progress was going! It had snowed a little bit yesterday morning and instead of getting up early and writing my 500 words before breakfast, I was still laid in bed, watching it snow. And I didn’t go up to the farm, but I did a load of washing, swept and mopped the downstairs floors, did a load of ironing and baked some chocolate cupcakes. All non-essential when it comes to being a writer, though when it comes to being a “housewife”, which I think most people view me to be, all required tasks. I am fairly houseproud and every day it horrifies me that my house is such a mess, with muddy floors and a kitchen table with no space to dine off. But it also horrifies me and fills me with that feeling of waste when I don’t do any writing whatsoever.

There’s no excuse for why it didn’t happen. We went to my parents’ in the afternoon to mend the tractor and there was nothing for me to do except sit and get more frustrated. Then after taking the tractor up to the farm we came home, I cooked tea, and after we’d eaten I was tired and we just sat and watched rubbish on TV. Now I wake up this morning feeling like yesterday was a waste of a day! Sure, people say it’s good to have time off, but when my writing is constantly playing out in my head, there’s never time off. I’ll never get anywhere if I keep taking time off.

So it was one day. A blip. Since starting #my500words, I’ve actually completed 5 chapters for #MFB. I’ve written more than two weeks’ worth of 500 words all in all, so that’s a good accomplishment. I’ve cut out a lot of chaff, including a whole chapter’s worth. I’ve streamlined the plot a little, and turned characters and incidents around. Finally, I’m getting excited about it again.

So yeah, I missed one day! Big deal. Get over yourself, self. Today is a new day. I have my writing group today, and then the rest of the day to write, write, write. If I can do 5 chapters every two weeks, in four months I’ll be romping home.

How do you get back on the writing train after a hiccup? I’d love to hear your tips on motivation and how you keep at it!

Katy

Reading Challenge 2017

As most people know, I love me a good book. Some people buy clothes, shoes, handbags, makeup, and others buy cigarettes, magazines, whatever, but I like my books. Always have done, and so Casa Katy is filled with books. When I moved out of home I determined to only bring with me books I hadn’t read and wanted to read, which meant that Windy Farm is now full of books I’ve read that I can’t bear to part with just yet or that I will probably never ever read but look pretty good on a shelf somewhere. Last year I didn’t do as much reading as I wanted to. I finished the Wheel of Time, which was a biggie, and I even tried to re-read A Song of Ice and Fire but I got three chapters into Clash of Kings and remembered why it took me so long the first time.

Towards the latter end of 2016 my little life had a bit of a switch-around. Not only did Scott and Fly move in, but I left my job, he then left his job, and we turned to joint endeavours (the farm), which led to days being full of lots of outside work and then evenings full of falling asleep on the settee.

But no more! This year I am committing to the Goodreads 2017 Challenge. I was going to do a reading challenge on my own, but I saw others engaging with this, and since I never make much of a go of my Goodreads account, I thought I would combine the two.

To make it simple, I’m sticking to one book a month. The other morning I went through my bookshelf and pulled off a big mix of books to read. Some are fiction, some are non-fiction, some I’ve started before, some have just languished, their secrets untold. I have visions of reading them in a seasonally appropriate order, so maybe the heavier non-fiction bits might be the sun lounger reads of a hot sticky summer. Who knows!

I’m starting off my 2017 Reading Challenge with The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I’ve had this book for a while now and held off reading it for a couple of reasons, usually the typical started it and something else came along, but in all honesty, I swerved from it because in setting and topic it is quite close to my own story in #MFB, being that they are both set in a magical university. I suppose I worried I might be too influenced by Grossman and subconsciously assimilate some of his themes and features into my own writing. (I also had this highly egocentric fantasy of being read/reviewed/interviewed about #MFB and being able to say “actually I read The Magicians after I finished #MFB so no it didn’t influence me in the slightest”.) But a big part of being a good writer is being a good reader. So I’m going to give it a go.

Plus, I recorded the TV series on my Sky+ box and it’s sat there taking up space, so once I’ve read the book I will watch that before we move and I lose all my recordings. PS. Does anyone know if you can keep your Sky+ box and your recordings if you move from one house to another??? The boy may be heartbroken if he loses all of his Heartbeat episodes.

So I will read The Magicians, my book for January. My rule is that if I finish early I won’t start another book on the list, I will either persevere with other outstanding books (Middlemarch, here’s looking at you) or start something else, and then come 1st February, pick the next one.

Here is my reading list in full! Tell me about yours. What will you be reading? Or what have you read recently? I’m always on the look-out for good books!

Katy’s Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge

The Ice Museum – Joanna Kavenna (non-fiction)
Empires of the Deep: The Rise and Fall of the British Navy – Ben Wilson (non-fiction)
A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness
The Magicians – Lev Grossman
Magician – Raymond E Feist
Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
Enduring Love – Ian McEwan
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
The Meaning of Night – Michael Cox
The Romance of the Forest – Ann Radcliffe
Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis
The Magus – John Fowles

A new year dawns

It’s that time of year – behold, the New Year, New Me promises! I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions. If I decide I need to sort something out mid-year, I’ll do it then, rather than wait until the next January to do it. But that doesn’t mean to say I never have goals in mind for each year – sometimes they’re so subconscious even I don’t know about them…

In 2015 my goals were to get my own place and change my job for something closer to home. I was commuting to Hull every day and the company I was working for were relocating into the city centre. It was already taking me at least an hour and a half to get to work, and easily more on an evening. And so in August 2015 I started looking for a house, and I got my keys for Casa Katy in December and was halfway through my notice period.

So in 2016 I had the house and the job. What was missing? Oh yeah, the boyfriend! Considering I had just bought my house and didn’t ever want to leave it because it was Mine, I managed to get a boyfriend just by sitting around doing nothing, as mutual friends were playing Cupid, and so in August I met Scott.

So, it’s 2017. I am sans job, but still running Casa Katy like a sinking ship – just the way I like it. Well, it is a little crowded now, with two people, two cats and a Border Collie. But the big goal for 2017 – beyond helping Scott get the farm built up, and sorting my grandad’s house out so we can move in there, and *cries* renting Casa Katy out – is the writing thing.

From about August to November very little writing was done last year. I submitted barely ghost-edited chapters to my writing group and that was about it. I didn’t do a blog post either. Then over the festive period, I started to look at #MFB. As so much time had elapsed I found I couldn’t get back into it, but then I realised the reason I couldn’t get back into it was that I had lost myself in it. So I sat and redrafted it, giving it a much-needed haircut. The end result was more like lopping a few limbs off than just a trim, but I figured I should be cutting down that approximate 350,000 word count. So now I have begun Draft Three, having aborted Draft Two midway through. Abandon ship, and all that. I’m very lucky because Scott understands how important it is to me, and he is encouraging me (i.e. telling me off when he finds me on Facebook!), even though he isn’t a reader at all (though he got two books for Christmas so that could change – hey, if I got my father reading after not picking up a book (that wasn’t a car manual) since school, anything’s possible!).

I found by chance on Twitter a writing campaign #my500words, started by a chap called Jeff Goins, whose blog is full of lots of useful motivating things for aspiring writers like myself, so please have a look here. So this is something I’m going to follow: 500 words a day for 31 days. This is pure writing, no editing, and while I am redrafting from existing copy, I am still writing fresh, especially in the cases where I’m adapting chapters and making new content based on concepts already clumsily made. So far so good – I’m already halfway through chapter two, having exceeded my 500 words most days.

After the 31 days are up, I might adapt the limit again, depending on how far I am through the story. Another thing to bear in mind is that lambing time is approaching, which might sit as a fat spanner in the works, as I have been led to believe that my life will be split between the sheds and home for a kip. Snatching time to write is so far serving me well: getting up a little earlier to sit in the quiet downstairs, or if on odd days I’m not needed, then I can really hammer it home.

I will keep you updated. Meanwhile, any words of encouragement won’t go amiss!

Katy

Christmas and New Year: just another day

So Christmas has been and gone, and so has New Year. Christmas is one of my favourite times of the year. My mother said when I was little I used to get so excited I would make myself poorly. And when I was a little bit bigger we went to Lapland one Christmas to really ramp up the festive authenticity – which was possibly spoiled when Father Christmas wasn’t at his grotto and then when he visited the hotel he gave me a game of Twister to play with all my non-existent brothers and sisters.

This year you might have thought, what with me leaving my job in November, I would have had all the time in the world to prepare for Christmas and really make it the best Christmas ever. Yet I hardly managed to do any of my traditions, to the point where on Christmas week I made both my roulade and a Yule Log in a bit of a rush. The roulade was a bit of a disaster: one of the eggs cracked so yolk got into the whites and they didn’t fluff up like they should, and then my cooker burnt it down one side yet leaving the other side perfect. All the same, it tasted light and chocolatey, but we didn’t eat it fast enough so the cream went to cheese. But since it got Scott’s approval I think I shall make another.

I left my job to focus on my writing and to get on with the move to my Grandad’s house, but also to support Scott at the farm while he was working full-time. Now that he’s driving on an as-and-when self-employed basis, we’ve been able to really get on with the farm and make some decent progress. I’m still learning and am probably more of a hindrance than a help, but with such short days at this time of year, it’s hard to fit everything in and get all the jobs done.

I still managed to do some Christmas shopping and get for everyone. I went to the Country Living Christmas Fair in Harrogate with my mum and with Scott’s mum as well, and we had a really lovely day. I had saved up for Christmas all year so I didn’t feel too guilty about spending money despite not earning anything at the moment.

Across the festive break, Scott’s favourite phrase has been “it’s just another day to me” – be it in relation to Christmas, New Year’s, or whatever. And for farming, and a lot of other industries, that’s absolutely true. There are still animals to feed, water troughs to top up, calves to feed twice a day, and to bed up if necessary. But I spent years working on Christmas anyway when I worked at the pub in our village, so I am well aware that the world doesn’t stop for one day.

And now we’re here, in 2017. How time has flown! Despite it not being the Christmas I might have known – waking up in my own little house instead of at my mum and dad’s, not going to Midnight Mass, not going on our Boxing Day walk with the doggies – it has still been a wonderful Christmas I’ve spent with those that I love and cherish, all the while missing those whose chairs were absent at our table.