Four years ago I sat down at my laptop and began to write. I remember the moment well. It was a wintery Tuesday night. My lovely mum had passed away months before and my mind was awash with memories. Not sad ones, but happy ones of my childhood. Of growing up on a small farm in Devon, surrounded by a menagerie of animals. To say Mum loved the animals would be an understatement. To her, these were not faceless livestock; they were individual characters, each with their own personalities and idiosyncrasies.
She talked about them like they were old friends, “Henny Penny laid 2 cluckleberries (eggs) today” we would be told, or, “Naughty Bess (the goat) has only gone and eaten your Dad’s pants, again” (Bess had a habit of raiding the washing line).
Many of our flock of sheep, around 60 head, were also treated to their own monickers: Mrs Brown, Mrs Black, Tubby, Martha, Thrifty 50 (in reference to her exuberant personally and her ear tag number), Table Top (she had a flat back) Scar (had been bitten by the dog), Badger (had a black stripe down her face), Easter (born on the day); the list was endless and forever being added to.
Then there was Salt Pork, the pig. Dear old Salt Pork, little did he know his name described a kind of bacon. Of course we all understood the cruel irony. “Eat up Salt Pork,” my Dad would say, ladling yet more left over food (slops) into his bowl, “eat up”. And so he did, growing, happily, ever fatter. As I mulled his sad fate, a story began to take shape in my head. Salt Pork would be my hero, only this time maybe he would escape the inevitable chop. And to do that, he was going to need some help.
Salt Pork had lived in a pen in the Old Barn. Yup, just as in the book there was, and still is, an Old and a New Barn. His neighbour had been Dad’s favourite Duck, Duckie (Dad was not as creative with his naming as Mum). Poor Duckie, was favourite more by luck than design. After numerous raids by ‘the fox’, Duckie found himself the last Duck standing. There was no doubt in my mind that he and Pig should be best friends.
Now all I needed was a nemesis; I like stories with really nasty baddies. Farmer wasn’t enough. He wasn’t intentionally evil, he was just a farmer, doing what farmers do. No, I needed to find a character, or characters, who were knowingly dastardly. So I cast my mind back; who hadn’t I liked? Chickens immediately sprang to mind. I had suffered any number of painful pecks and been chased around the yard by various, vicious, cockerels. They were the perfect candidates for the job. The Evil Chickens were born. And the story really took shape.
Three years later, The Unbelievable Top Secret Diary was published. The second book has just come out and I have just started to write the third. I owe many people a huge debt of gratitude for making this happen; my husband for endless proof reads, my agent and publisher for believing in me and helping me craft, and then craft some more. But most of all I owe my Mum. Without her eccentric and endearing take on the world in which we grew up, these books would never have happened.
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