The Long Drove Road - by Susan Price

"I don’t think those dogs ever mistook me for their master. They were good herd-dogs and I think they knew exactly what I was — a little calf, lost from the herd. A lost little pup wandering loose. They knew that what they had to do was take me in charge, and herd me along, and watch over me, until they had brought me somewhere safe."

It’s a long way home — from East to West across Scotland’s mountains and lochs.

          Sandy’s mother is desperate for money. So she ‘bonds’ ten-year-old Sandy to a wealthy farmer until he’s twenty-one.
          Sandy is miserable — bullied, ill-fed and beaten. He runs home, and is heart-broken when his mother makes him return, to another beating.
          So Sandy runs away, though he fears he will be caught and hung for breaking his bond. Alone, on the road, he longs for a safe, loving home.
          Then he falls in with friends: two drover dogs, making their way home, by themselves, to a distant croft.
          Sandy decides to follow the dogs to wherever they belong. He dreams there will be a place by the fire for him too…

But when the dogs reach home, will Sandy be left outside, alone again?

Here it is at long last - my first entirely original indie-book, The Drover's Dogs. Everything else I've published has been a book that had, originally, been conventionally published, had gone out of print and which I'd made available again using KDP or CreateSpace.
          But this book, The Drover's Dogs, has never been in print anywhere before: it's my first original self-published book. I'm late to the party, I know, but I'm very pleased to have got here.
          It's been a long road, both for my young hero, Sandy, who has to walk across Scotland and for me.

          First, of course, write your book. Most people visiting here will know very well that this isn't a straightforward process, and usually not a short one either. (See Sandra Horn's wonderful blog, a few days ago, on how an idea first starts to struggle into life.)

          The original seed of The Drover's Dogs was planted almost twenty years ago, when I read  'The Drove Roads of Scotland; by A. R. B. Haldane. I think I was looking into some places to walk in Scotland. I came across this in the footnotes (I've always found footnotes a very fertile place for ideas. Always have a look through the footnotes.)
Some years ago the late Miss Stewart Mackenzie of Brahan, Ross-shire, informed a friend that in the course of journeys by coach in the late autumn from Brahan to the South during her childhood about the year 1840 she used frequently to see collie dogs making their way north unaccompanied. On inquiring of her parents why these dogs were alone, [she] was informed that these were dogs belonging to drovers who had taken cattle to England and that when the droving was finished the drovers returned by boat to Scotland. To save the trouble and expense of their transport, the dogs were turned loose to find their own way north. It was explained that the dogs followed the route taken on the southward journey being fed at Inns or farms where the drove had 'stanced' and that in the following year when the drovers were again on the way south, they paid for the food given to the dogs...' 
I loved the idea of these very intelligent lively dogs making their own way home, trotting across moors and mountains, patiently waiting for ferries across lochs, calling at inns for their dinner...
Loch Katrine, Wikimedia, Graham Lewis

          For a good many years, I reguarly took this idea out and dusted it off, started the dogs trotting on their way... But always gave up because I could never think of a story to accompany them.
          I can't remember exactly how my young hero, Sandy, edged his way into the story. I think I was noodling about on various sites about Border Collies, reading anecdotes about these dogs, and their intelligence.

                                       Q: How many Border Collies does it take to change a
Wikimedia: Border Collie

 A: They don't do light-bulbs, but ask them nicely and they might be prepared to re-design your whole lighting system when they have a spare moment.

          I read that these dogs are so bright that they aren't good family pets, unless you're able to devote a lot of time and energy to them.
          One correspondent wrote that he had to keep a close eye on his collie at family gatherings where there were children. His collie recognised that these were junior members of the pack and saw it as his job to constantly circle the family group, rounding  up any straying children and herding them back into the pack. All very amusing - except that if any of the children objected - or worse, ran away - the collie was prepared to growl threateningly, give chase and even nip in order to do its duty and drive (drove?) those children back where, as the collie saw it, they should be. - A dilemma. The dog was not ill-natured, or dangerous. So long as the children were obedient and stayed where he thought they should be, the collie was delightful with them. But the dog had a work-ethic that would not be denied.
          I think it was this post which sparked the idea of a runaway boy who meets the drove dogs on the road. He thinks it's all his own
From the British Library Collection on Flickr
idea to follow the dogs - after all, he has nowhere else to go and they're company. He doesn't realise - at the time - that the dogs see him as 'a little lost calf' and have taken him into their charge. He begins to realise it when he tries to leave them and finds himself being droved.

          I remember that, at first, I intended to make the boy an 'apprentice' escaped from a factory or mill.
          For centuries, the apprentice system was a way for a boy to acquire a thorough training in a trade, but during the industrial revolution it was corrupted by the unscrupulous in something which was no more than slavery. These 'apprentices' of the industrial age were often orphaned or abandoned children. The mill or factory paid 'a bond' to the workhouse which supplied them - this bond had originally been what a boy's parents paid for his keep while he was learning a trade - but the factories taught no trade. The children were employed to tend and clean machinery and were favoured because they were very, very cheap labour.
          These 'apprentices' were often ill-fed, ill-treated, over-worked and locked in at night so they could not escape. (And since nothing changes, many children are treated like this today, wherever the lack of one of those deplorable 'nanny-states' makes it possible.)

         To return to my story - further research showed me that the dates didn't work. By the time the factories were in full swing, the droving trade was already dying. At this point my Scottish partner told me about 'the bondagers.' These were farm-labourers, usually women but also boys, who were 'bonded' to work for a farmer. The bond usually lasted for a year, but the length of time varied - as did the treatment the bondagers recieved (though it was always a hard life by our standards, as they worked the land seven days a week in all weathers.)
          My partner had heard a radio programme which had told of a boy 'bonded' just before the First World War. He'd been put to sleep in a damp shed, with nettles and thistles growing through his mattress and fed very badly. When the war broke out, he managed to escape his bond by signing up. While everyone else in his barracks complained about the discomfort and poor food, the ex-bondager thought himself in luxury. He'd never been so well clothed, well-housed or well-fed.
          So I shifted the details of my story and made Sandy a bondager escaping from ill-treatment. He starts his walk somewhere north of Falkirk in the east and follows the dogs along Loch Katrine to the northern end of Loch Lomond, along the edge of Loch Fyne, over the hills to Loch Awe and then over the hills to Oban on the west coast.

          That's enough for one blog, though. Next month, I'll say something about how I came up with the cover.

Susan Price won the Carnegie Medal for her book, The Ghost Drum, and the Guardian Fiction Prize for The Sterkarm Handshake (soon to be reprinted by Open Road.)

Her first original, self-published book, The Drover's Dogs can be found here:



I apologise if anyone follows the above links and finds the books 'Not Available.' They will be, presently.

Karen Bush of this blog, Editor at large and whippet fancier, alerted me to typos in the copy I forwarded to her. So I proofed it - again - and republished: but it may take a couple of days to reappear on the Amazon site.


Dennis Hamley said…
Congratulations, Sue. It's a great feeling to have a new book out which is genuinely independently published instead of the re-issues and new compilations of old stories (something about Titanic and deckchairs would be appropriate here) which until October were my indie contribution. 'Bright Sea, Dark Graves' makes me feel like a REAL indie at last. And the second in the series will soon be up and running. I shall buy 'The Drover's Dogs' as soon as I see it's available.
Susan Price said…
Thank you, Dennis! And I agree - there is something invigorating about being able to say, 'Now I'm a REAL indie-author.'
Lee said…
The Amazon sample reads beautifully!

(And we've had a new Border Collie pup--well, half Border Collie, half Old German Sheepdog--for several months now, and she's certainly 'droving' me crazy. When she can't herd the horses grazing on nearby fields, it's the crows she tries to gather in. She's our second, after the death of our beloved Gypsy last spring, so we knew what we were getting into. They are indeed hyper-intelligent. I even suspect she was trying to use my iPad last night, when she made short work of its charger.)
Jan Needle said…
Sounds fablous, Sue. I've just bought me copy!
Jan Needle said…
Cheeky swine turned me down! They did this yesterday as well, when I tried to buy an even cheaper book. Do you think they're trying to tell me I read too much?

Anyway, I jumped through a few hoops and now it's on my Kindle. I'll get into it asap.
madwippitt said…
It's a great book, it really is! I found it very hard to put it down and had a very late night as a consequence! :-)
Bill Kirton said…
Great blog Susan, and well timed. I'm off on a train to Glasgow in an hour so that's my reading for the trip sorted. Thanks.
Susan Price said…
Thank you all! - And Lee, fun to hear about your new pup. "'Droving' me crazy" made me smile.
Mari Biella said…
Congratulations, Susan! I've just got my copy.
glitter noir said…
Congratulations, Sue! Looks good. If I ever get my Kindle up and running again, I'll rush to read it.
Congratulations Sue! Wishing you lots of success. The party is certainly fun.

Lydia Bennet said…
Congratulations Sue, good luck with the book, it sounds like a winner.
julia jones said…
Bought it and looking forward to the read. Best of luck Sue
Fascinating blog - and book - Sue. Very much looking forward to it. Have you read (or even seen) Sue Glover's play, Bondagers? It gets a well deserved revival up here every so often and I'm sure it's in print somewhere. As you say, I think Sue's play focuses on the women rather than the children involved. I love collies - scarily intelligent. One of my dad's dogs was a collie/sheltie cross. Fortunately he had collie brains and a sweet sheltie temperament. Best dog ever!
Susan Price said…
I'll look up the play - I'm interested in the bondagers. My partner tells me that they even had to wear a kind of uniform which looks like the everyday dress of the 17th century. Odd how many uniforms - such as the costumes worn by judges and barristers - seems to have frozen at that date.

And the collie-sheltie cross seems to be the one to go for!

Popular posts

What's the Big Idea? - Nick Green

A Few Discreet Words About Caesar's Penis--Reb MacRath

The Splendid Rage of Harlan Ellison - Umberto Tosi

A Glittering Gem of Black, Gothic Humour: Griselda Heppel is intrigued by O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker

Misogyny and Bengali Children’s Poetry by Dipika Mukherjee