Juggling a life of farming and writing wonderful books about her experiences on the farm, LORNA SIXSMITH shares her quiet life on the farm, which books are on HER BEDSIDE TABLE and the inspiration she gets from spending time ENJOYING THE COUNTRYSIDE …
‘Irish Farmerette’ Lorna Sixsmith was raised on a beef and dairy farm in County Laois. With almost comical allergies to dairy products, grass pollens, straw and some animals, a career as a farmer was initially unlikely.
In 2002 Lorna moved back to the family farm with her husband Brian and their newborn baby, after many years in England. In 2011, wanting to share her farming experiences and to educate about rural life, Lorna’s highly popular blog was born. The author gathered such a large audience that it led to the self-publication of her first book, Would You Marry A Farmer? in 2013.
Lorna’s unique brand of humour and realism have sealed her place in the writing community, giving us two more books. How To Be A Perfect Farm Wife (2015) won the Best Non-Fiction accolade at the inaugural Irish CAP Indie Book Awards in October this year. Her new title An Ideal Farm Husband is out now. Lorna’s work has attracted major media interest from RTÉ’s Ryan Tubridy Show and Countrywide, TV3’s Midday and Ireland AM. Her straight talking has brought her onto Today with Sean O’Rourke and Prime Time.
I live ten miles from Carlow town, less than a mile from the village of Crettyard. It boasts two shops, a post office and a creamery. Although there are very few houses in the actual village, it was once one of the most populated areas in rural Ireland and was one of the first rural areas to get electricity in the late 1940s. We have a dairy and beef farm, currently milking 115 cows. We also have two dogs, numerous farm cats and three hens. We lived in England for twelve years. I was working as a secondary school teacher and Brian was a scientist. We inherited my parents’ farm in 2002 and our eldest was only three weeks old when we came back so it was certainly a dramatic change from working full-time and being child-free to being a full-time mum and a farmer’s wife.
Our house is located up a winding lane and is sheltered from view by a number of trees. Much of our land goes higher up the hill so the views are wonderful and the sense of solitude is tremendous. I never feel lonely, because of the views I think, but walking across the fields gives a wonderful sense of peacefulness. It’s so handy having local shops. I always forget to buy milk and eggs in the winter (when cows are dry and hens aren’t laying), so need emergency supplies frequently. One of my favourite shops close by is Clonmore Meats – a really friendly butcher. Their meat is sourced from local farmers and their beef just melts in the mouth. I would never purchase Sunday roasts from anywhere else.
I write in different rooms depending on the time of year. February to April is my busiest season on the farm and this is when I write the bulk of my first draft at a small writing desk in the corner of the living room. If I’m writing while keeping an eye on the calving camera in the kitchen, I sit at the kitchen table. May to August is when I’m researching, filling in the gaps and editing the book. I then move to the dining room which has lots of natural light and a huge table so I can spread out lots of books, not to mention all the sheets of paper with scribbles all over them. I seem to write and edit more effectively amongst ‘organised chaos’ especially if a deadline is looming. I daren’t tidy up in case I accidentally bin a piece of paper with crucial information on it. The dining room is a really cold room as it’s north facing, so I head back to the living room again in the autumn. I have a bookcase in almost every room in the house and many have double rows of books on each shelf. I do have a clear out occasionally but so many of my books are old friends and conjure up the memories of when I purchased or read it.
We’re blessed with having three wonderful independent bookshops in Kilkenny. You’re always assured of a smile and helpful suggestions in Stone House Books and I’ve got to know Liz and her staff very well. Liz invited me along to a Christmas author event two years ago and I was so excited to see cupcakes with my book cover on them, right beside cupcakes of The Spinning Heart, Anyush and Unravelling Oliver as Donal Ryan, Martine Madden and Liz Nugent were there too. The Book Centre has a cosy warren like feel as it pulls you towards the rear of the bookshop amongst all the staggered shelves and there’s nothing nicer than purchasing a book and then heading upstairs for a coffee and cake. Dubray Books has cleaner lines with brighter lighting and I love reading their recommendations for books. Their staff are wonderfully friendly and knowledgeable too. We’re spoilt for choice in Kilkenny.
On current reading
I have so many books awaiting my attention. I purchased lots during the summer as my ‘reward’ for when I finished my own book and I’m making very slow progress through them, not for the lack of trying. The four at the top of the pile are…
Orla McAlinden’s The Accidental Wife. I always take short breaks between short stories in an anthology and these ones, set in Northern Ireland, are powerfully written and pack quite a punch.
E.M. Reapy’s Red Dirt because of the wonderful reviews it received during the summer.
Many people in the Rick O’Shea book club group on Facebook waxed lyrical about Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See so that’s near the top of the pile now too.
Deirdre Raftery and Karen Fischer’s Educating Ireland: Schooling and Social Change 1700-2000 is there too as one of my next projects is research into a girls boarding school, focusing on 1915-1975.
I’m at my most relaxed when walking across fields – multi-tasking by getting some exercise, enjoying some thinking time and herding the cattle too. Some people say they get their best ideas when doing mundane tasks like washing up. I find they strike when I’m doing farm tasks like feeding calves or strolling along bringing in the cows. Thank goodness for the Evernote app on the phone.
On what’s next
I met my editor recently to discuss my next writing project. I had thirteen ideas and she presented me with a few more so I guess I have enough to keep me going for a few years. Not a bad complaint. I’ve just started writing a humourous novel (the protagonist is a newly-married farm wife) and I’d love to write a couple of short stories too. I’ve had a couple of short stories accepted into anthologies and really enjoyed writing within the format.
All of Lorna’s books (€12.95 each) are published by Write On Track and available from bookshops nationwide or directly from www.lornasixsmith.com
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