Country Living For Writers - Debbie Bennett

Here's the view from my study window one crisp cold winter's day in early 2011. Looks utterly idyllic, doesn't it? This-living-in-the-country lark must be wonderful. All that fresh air, peace and quiet? Must be perfect for writing. Not really.

I live in a back-to-front house. The view you see in the photograph is the front gate which leads onto a footpath that circumnavigates the village. It's really rather quaint having a footpath that mostly surrounds the village - they have the annual Pie & Peas race (really they do, you can see the route here - it attracts hundreds of runners each year) and the village Pound the Bounds, for the less-energetic. I'm sure there's a book in there somewhere, maybe an Agatha Christie murder or something.  But there's no vehicle access to the front of our house and it's muddy and unlit, so the main entrance these days is at the back, at the top of a narrow single-track lane that has qualities all its own.

So this view is largely uninterrupted, give or take the odd horse-and-rider, jogger or cyclist (and they are very odd around here). On the other side of the footpath is a field which rotates every couple of years between sheep/cows and potatoes. Lovely, I hear you say - all that greenery. Well first it needs "priming". Here's an action shot of the lovely farmer liberally coating the field in some nice fertile manure. If you look closely, you can see where some of the clods have actually flown over the fence and are impaled on our gatepost. Heaven help any innocent people walking past! Fragrant times but all part of the country-living experience.

After the manure has "matured" for a week or so and we have stopped noticing the smell, it's either grass (for animals) or potatoes. Now, we're in early March and it's been potatoes for the past 2 years, so it's probably sheep this year. Yes, the lambs are very cute - especially when you wake up one morning and find most of them in the front garden having got through a hole in the fence and decided our front lawn was nicer to eat than the field. But they are so noisy! All night long a melody of bleats in different tones - I swear they all have their own voices. And there are often a few cows in there for good measure. Have you ever heard cows at night? When it's dark and quiet, you can hear them munching, farting and coughing.

Beyond the first couple of fields is a dip which houses the Inter-City West Coast train line (between Crewe and Liverpool). The cutting ends mid-way across the field and though I don't actually notice the trains much, it's the Sunday-night maintenance work that I hear. Sound travels at night and I can hear every swear-word as I lie in bed.

And talking of voices, I discovered a new word the other day: Nomophobia. The definition of which is a fear of losing your phone or being out of phone contact. Yes, really. Go look it up on wikipedia. I can well believe it, considering that every second person on the footpath is talking on their phone to somebody. Quite frequently they are with one person and chatting away to another as they wander by, oblivious to the fact that I can hear every word.

So if you are ever considering a move to the countryside, or even just a break or a retreat to do some writing, take some earplugs and a good air-freshener! And leave the phone behind. where you can educate yourself further from my ramblings - everything from short-story writing to how to be a spy in MI5!

CWA Debut Dagger long-listed adult thriller 
Young adult fantasy - certified 100% vampire-and werewolf-free. Not even any zombies.
Fantasy, sf & horror short stories - from a short-listed competition entry to a novelisation of an episode of a horror tv series. Most of these stories have been previously published in print form in various magazines and anthologies.


CallyPhillips said…
Englandshire countryside sounds much more noisy than rural Scotland. Having said that, I lived for 11 years within 50metres of a 'cow palace' housing some 500 cows and that was noisy and smelly (and scary during foot and mouth) I've changed all that now in favour of the noise of constant WIND (meterological not bovine) with only pheasants,badgers and foxes as neighbours. And whisky fields.
The important point here... Hamelin's Child is reviewed at the indie ebook review site on 22nd March. Edge of Dreams will follow some time April. Look out for them.
madwippitt said…
I find the nighttime chat of sheep strangely comforting and much less scary than the screeching of foxes and mating hedgehogs ... and surely better sheep in the garden than a dozen bolshy Charolais (and there was also the occasion where a herd of frisky heifers frisked all over the newly-laid-to-seed lawn) The smells can be a bit rank at times, you're right though. Especially when, as you point out, half of it lands in your garden - time to start growing prize winning roses or moster marrows perhaps? Muck spreading is one thing, but the moving of the local turkey farm muckheap is quite another ... But the dogs love it!
madwippitt said…
or monster marrows even!
Susan Price said…
Makes me glad of the peace and quieet of the Black Country!
Our very worst smelly incident in all my years of living in the countryside was when a handling company decided to transport many tons of partially treated human sewage waste (there had been a breakdown of some sort at the treatment plant) throughout Ayrshire, to those few farms which would accept it, in open trailers at high speed. The smell was such that just stepping outside the door made you want to retch. All of this - as we found out later - was perfectly legal except for the open trailers bit, which definitely wasn't. What made the locals incandescent with rage was the letter from the council which accused them of 'not understanding about the countryside'. Since many of them were farmers whose families have been here for the past 100 years or so,(and most of them didn't want any 'free manure' from the council,either)it didn't go down well. The joys of country living!
Debbie Bennett said…
@Cally - we get wind too. Lots of it as we are quite exposed across the Cheshire plains. During the big storm in Jan 2007, we went out for dinner as I was convinced the roof was going to blow off. There have been many nights when we've slept in shifts in the downstairs guest bedroom as it's way too scary to even go upstairs!

Foot & mouth was interesting here too - for many months we couldn't legally use our own front gate.
Hywela Lyn said…
Oooh, I do envy you that lovely snowy view - pure inspiration as far as I'm concerned and I think I could happily cope with the downsides of having such an idylic view.

I do live in the country, but sadly the window of my 'writing room' looks out at the bungalows opposite. Not unattractive but not particularly inspiring either. My dream is to one day return to my native Wales and live in a cottage in the middle of nowhere!

(I do agree about the country smells though, when the nextdoor farmer is 'muckspreading' it does get a bit 'whiffy'! :)
Debbie, I'm sure Manet must have seen your snowy view - I used to have a print of one of his paintings that is exactly the composition of your top picture.
While I'm writing I look out on a street, but I spend a lot of time in more rural climes, courtesy of my horse. Cows and cow smells (strangely cheesy), pig smells (lardy and livery), horse smells (simply divine, even in the rain). In summer, at haymaking time, the threshing machines go on all night. It's such a different way of life from the city.
But funnily enough when I'm out in the countryside I never see people on mobiles. Perhaps it's because the reception is so rotten they have to make do with simpler pleasures.

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