My professional life started when I went to drama school. I became a drama teacher to pay the rent, and in what spare time I had, I worked in Fringe theatre, writing, acting and directing bizarre, off-the-wall plays. I did a post-grad course at Bristol University in Radio, Film and Television and went to work in television where I became a documentary film-maker for BBC regional TV. Ten years later I went freelance and combined TV work with other fringe theatre work, writing and directing.
And then I decided the time had come to change direction and start writing. What came first – the plots, the characters, relationships, location, scenarios…
My background is the first ingredient - Right from the time I learnt to write, I’d written plays – first plays for my dolls and my two brothers, and then, later, when I had left home, plays for the Fringe. Fringe because what I wrote was always fairly anarchic – definitely not mainstream – with a strong emphasis on the absurd. My various attempts to write a novel always ended the same way – I got bored after about page three. Writing plays, I never did because with plays the characters immediately leap at you – they are alive and demanding action as soon as they are created.
When I ended up working in documentary television, there was no time to write plays but I started to accumulate a store of characters, little stories, scenarios, encounters, that I stashed away thinking one day I would re-open those files of experience and hey presto – I would have lots of plots for dramas, or short stories, or even a novel.
A Long Shadow was my first-born book and arose out of a documentary feature I made for C4 news about the increasing number of women in farming. It was a period in our recent history when the farming community were reeling under successive blows to their industry from BSE, foot-and-mouth, and unsympathetic government policy.
This became the background for the story, which centres around the violent death of a young farmer. As his widow struggles to come to terms with his death, she decides to take on the farm. At the same time, she promises their young son that she will prove to him that his dad did not commit suicide. Two seemingly impossible tasks. Then a series of near fatal accidents occur and it would appear that her life, too, is threatened.
The origins of the story stretch back to a seemingly totally unconnected event in the Second World War. It is told from viewpoints of the two principal characters and the reader is privy to other stories that go towards the final solution.
The novel is quite complicated, I admit, with many different strands and I could never quite make it work satisfactorily, despite the loyal friends who read it and cheered it on. I was tempted to remove the sub-plot about domestic violence and destitution - again I had made a documentary on a refuge, but I really liked the point it was making – that nothing is what it seems - which added richness, I thought, to the one of the main themes of the whole book.
So I put it on one side and started on the Summerstoke trilogy. Written as a complete antidote to A Long Shadow, they are light-hearted rural comedies, set in a village not unlike one I live near.
Stephen Tucker and Marsh Farm emerged years ago, long before I had thought of Summerstoke, when I was a postgrad. student at Bristol University. We’d been commissioned to make a film on farming methods for Compassion in World Farming and I found one of those wonderful farms where the hens really did scratch in the yard, the cows all had an individual identity and hay was stored in the top bedrooms of this beautiful eighteenth century house. The farm was struggling to survive the twentieth century. Owned by a widowed farmer and his son, the farmer was desperate that his son, now in his mid-thirties, should marry. Desperately shy, slightly plump, slow of movement, here was Stephen Tucker.
During the writing of the Summerstoke trilogy, my beloved husband, Miles Kington, died. He was a humorous writer and broadcaster and had been writing a book about his cancer diagnosis when he died. It was incomplete, so I finished it for him and had “How Shall I Tell The Dog”, as it was called, published. I then edited a collection of his Franglais columns, “Le Bumper Book of Franglais” and then a selection of his other writing “The Best of Miles”.
I finished the third book of the Summerstoke Trilogy “Spring Mischief” and fiddled a bit more with A Long Shadow. I still wasn’t happy with it and put it to one side again as I had promised Miles I would get a collection of his letters published. Not an easy task as he was a prolific writer, and there were over 20,000 to choose from. “My Mother, the Bearded Lady” finally comes out this autumn.
I went back to A Long Shadow, re-read it for the ‘nth time and eureka - worked out what I needed to do. So here it is. It’s an unusual book, I think, but life-affirming despite the sense of gloom around it and I really hope people read it and rate it.
And if you have not encountered the Summerstoke books before, I hope you will enjoy them.