How to Breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics

This novel is a departure for me as it is not a memoir as such, but it is very heavily based on my life and experiences as a smallholder in Dorset, England. A few of the characters are based on people I have known or knew at the time (e.g. the WWOOFER Alistair) and the family members have more than a little similarity to my own. Everything that happens as regards the animals featured in the book is true and this is the reason I wrote the book. However, the plot and storyline are fiction. It is, I hope, fun, humorous and heart-warming, but also informative and well founded in farming reality. Here is a link to the book 

I won't say more about it here as the reviews I am posting will speak for themselves.

1. From Peter Davey:

"I loved this delightful, funny and beautifully observed novel, as much as anything, because it reminded me so powerfully of my own childhood and the farm on which I was born and raised. That said, its appeal is universal, extending even to those with no country blood in their veins at all. It describes the adventures (and misadventures) of sassy, enterprising Maisie Patterson who, fresh from university and ready to conquer the world (and, of course, jobless) is reluctantly persuaded by her highly eccentric mother to help her revive their ramshackle 20 acre farm in darkest Dorset.

Maisie’s romantic and rather naive notions of farming (in particular the rearing of sheep for the spinning and knitting of wool) are very soon knocked out of her by the series of practical, economic and emotional challenges involved in getting any business off the ground. Nonetheless, with the grit and determination underlying her disarmingly dotty personality and with the help of her more savvy college friend Jeanie, she battles on regardless, encountering romantic entanglements and complications along the way in the form of lovable but rather ineffectual Simon and hunky auctioneer Alan Reed.

Every character, even the most minor, is superbly drawn – especially Maisie’s “Ma” who thinks nothing of tackling farmyard chores in a ball gown or wedding dress, stripping down to her voluminous petticoats whenever the work gets sweaty. The author intimately understands the complex and often contrary nature not only of humans but of animals – for example, Maisie’s first ewe, Emily, whom she drives home from market stuffed in the back of her Renault 4 with her horns poking through the sunroof; or Wellington, the ever-obliging ram; or Miss Gee, the formidable “guard-dog” goose.

Valerie Poore writes in a gentle, leisurely and unpretentious style which makes a delightful change from the jangly, self-conscious and “in your face” nature of much modern writing. She is so in command of her subject that you can almost smell the straw and dung and newborn lambs, and feel the sunshine on your face as it breaks through the early morning mist. Her descriptions of the English countryside are wonderful and lyrical yet she never for a moment glamorises the exhausting, stressful and sometimes heartbreaking profession of “real” farming. She knows too well what it’s like. This is the work of an author who has lived right under the skin of the landscape and knows it in every mood and in every season, not the rose-tinted observations of someone driving through it in a comfortable car. Yet the novel is always upbeat and life-affirming – infused throughout with a wry and exuberant humour and wonderfully free of nastiness or cynicism.

It is also highly informative. How many readers knew how to livestock-proof 20 acres of land before reading this? Or how to bid for a ewe at auction and get her at the price they can afford? I certainly didn’t, despite coming from a farming background. Valerie Poore effortlessly imparts her encyclopaedic knowledge of all the cycles of the farming year and makes learning about them a delight.

Although this novel has echoes of some of those wonderful but now sadly neglected English authors like Adrian Bell, Henry Williamson and H. J. Massingham, it is entirely unique and original. In a world where so much writing is just jumping on a bandwagon or imitating something else, this stands alone. It has that quality of all great literature which is not so much to tell a story as to transport the reader into another world and I can thoroughly recommend getting lost in this beautiful, if somewhat zany, world for a while. If I could give it more than five stars, I would."

2. From Jan Ruth:
"One of the best narrative beginnings I’ve read in a long while!
I’m always wary when books are recommended as funny, but this one really is.
A lovely romp through rural England in the seventies, this story is genuinely both amusing and gently compelling. It was refreshing to read a book which doesn’t rely on sex, violence, or over-written drama.
Overall it reminded me of the James Herriot stories, that wonderful cocktail of English eccentricity – especially Ma IN her cocktail dresses – and the menagerie of animals, some compliant, others less so...
A lovely light read, well written and presented."

3. From String:
"Such a gem of a book, with humorous, riveting writing; an engaging story of Dorset and the attempt to live a country life, with apt descriptions of a countryside that I called home for five years. An unabashed love of animals and the desire, toils and tribulations of creating a self-sustaining lifestyle brings focus and illumination to a very pleasant read. Dorset, people, in my experience can be eccentric and this book not only highlights this, but also the intelligence and companionship of some interesting and quite clever animals. Above all, I like Val's writing style and her use of description to highlight and share with the reader a lovely part of the world."


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