Any long-term visitors to this site will know that three years ago, Herstory Writing & Interpretation was a very different business to the one you see today: I used to have a very mixed portfolio of lecturing, secular celebrancy for funerals and weddings, historical guided walks, tours, and interpretation, and writing/publication (as well as being Hubcap’s secretary, part-time assistant, and novice smallholder at Beckside!).
But all that changed in a most sad and sudden way on September 13th 2017, when Hubcap’s regular workmate died unexpectedly. There was only one way we could keep ‘business as usual’ for all our customers – I had to turn full-time professional gardener. Luckily, gardening had long been a favourite hobby, so I had plenty of experience and enthusiasm; unluckily, I no longer had plenty of time and energy to manage the whole Herstory business as well. So I gave up celebrancy on the spot, (except for family and friends), pared back my talks/walks/interpretation season to January - March, when we’re least busy outdoors, put writing on the back burner to do as and when, and wholeheartedly embraced the new direction.
It’s a decision I’ve never regretted. Much as I’d enjoyed my former career in heritage, it used to make me ill – I was basically allergic to the museum environment! – whereas gardening made me fitter than I’d been in decades, with muscles like I’d never had before. And while I’d also enjoyed all the aspects of Herstory, they often meant performing under high pressure – especially for funeral services – and long, demanding hours (delivering a full school day of costumed interpretation, plus trucking/setting up/packing away all the kit, is among the most mentally and physically challenging work I’ve ever done!).
In comparison, gardening’s a doddle; simple, repetitive tasks which leave ample head-space for me to think about writing and prepare for my next session pounding the keyboard. It also feels very apt to be connected to such a fundamental strand of human history: people have been gardening for pleasure and profit ever since they’ve been living in permanent communities (think of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, and our word ‘horticulture,’ which derives from the Latin hortus, meaning garden). A kitchen-garden to grow fruit and vegetables, culinary and medicinal herbs, and household plants like soapwort for cleaning and ladies’ bedstraw for strewing, would have been an essential adjunct to homes throughout the ages. Gardening was a respectable pastime for rich or noble ladies, although they may not have soiled their hands with the actual labour, as much as it added vitamins and flavour to the bread, ale and vegetable pottage diet of the working classes; and no doubt people have always enjoyed their gardens, whether they were humble cottage plots, Elizabethan formal knot-gardens, or the vast, elaborate vistas landscaped by Capability Brown.
Meanwhile Hubcap and I have slowed down considerably since our first hectic six months of working together – the inevitable aches and pains of advancing middle-age don’t leave us much choice! So now we’re coasting down into semi-retirement, aiming to retain enough jobs to keep us fit and active without exhausting or stressing us out, and leaving time for me to write while we go on developing Beckside.
Apropos of writing: due to unforeseen circumstances, the publication of my first book for children/cat-lovers of all ages, Henry Wowler & the Mirror-Cat, will be delayed while a new set of illustrations are prepared.
On one hand, I’m disappointed about this; on the other, it may be easier to organise launch events and readings by Easter 2021, the new publication date I’m aiming for. So I’m sorry you won’t find the book in this year’s Christmas stocking… but in compensation, here’s a sneak preview of some preliminary sketches by my accomplished artist friend Janet Flynn. I’m delighted with them – they capture the essence of the stories very well, and will be a great asset to the book. They’re also just the kind of illustrations I would have loved and pored over as a child, and still enjoy as an adult, so I hope future readers will agree.
What do you think?