When Lorna dropped me a message one evening asking if I would review her latest book ‘Till the cows come home’ on my blog, I was delighted (and a little bit flabbergast!) to accept.
Here’s what I thought of it and how you can get your hands on a copy…
Where to start … For those that don’t know Lorna, she is a 4th generation Irish farmer from Garrendenny (South East Ireland) who swapped her city life for her Irish roots roots in 2002. Along with husband Brain, children Will and Kate and two cattle dogs, she juggles milking 120 Holsteins with her two key passions: motherhood and writing.
Lorna has a strong female farming voice and is a fantastic agvocate, flying the flag for team dairy, female farmers and agriculture in general. From co-managing the @IrelandsFarmers twitter account where a different Irish farmer curates each week to co-organising the South East Women in Farming group, it amazes me how she still has time to write and I have the highest respect for her!
To date, Lorna’s publications include Would You Marry a Farmer? How to be a Perfect Farm Wife and An Ideal Farm Husband.
The book’s blurb
Fuelled by dreams of a rural idyll, Lorna Sixsmith and her husband swap the 9 to 5 for a return to her family’s ancestral farm at Garrendenny.
They love the fields and lanes of their corner of Ireland where their black and white herd flourishes, the land where the patterns of their lives echo those of generation of Sixsmiths before them.
But a rural existence isn’t a heaven on earth. Bad weather, runaway bulls, temperamental farm machinery and cows that refuse to be milked can test anyone’s patience. But not for too long – the fields, the animals, and the laughter always wins out.
Warm, witty and wise, Lorna Sixsmith effortlessly mixes family memories, social history and her own hard-won insights into life on the land.
When I first received my hardback copy in the post it was love at first sight – cliched I know!
Its vibrant front cover depicting Lorna and her beloved Lou immediately grabbed my attention and as I quickly flicked through it I was delighted to find cow patterned lining and quirky farm related sign off icons at the end of each chapter. It looked so good and I felt privileged to be one of the first to experience Lorna’s personal farming memoirs.
If you are a bit of a history nerd like me, you will ADORE the first few chapters of this book as it explores both the history of Garrendenny Farm and Ireland’s agricultural background in general.
In particular, Chapter 3 ‘The Fields of Garrendenny Farm’ and its discussion of the story behind each name captivated my imagination.
‘Naming fields is an fitting affectionate tribute to their lives and means they [the people] will never be forgotten’.
In fact, it made me consider the field names on our own farm, fuelling a personal desire to seek out, discover and document their unique stories and the people involved, just as Lorna has done in this chapter.
Lorna has mastered the ability to provoke a feeling of familiarity for readers through her description of people: readers are sure to recognise similar characteristics and traits within their own farming community. Personally, I would have loved to have met Joseph Sixsmith, Lorna’s slightly eccentric Grandfather (her words, not mine!), whose aversion to the colour yellow meant he never ate eggs – imagine the conversations…
Likewise her account of riding Lucy the pony at High Shores made me reminisce about my own childhood days hacking out in the fields – and the strong battle of wills between a mare and her rider!
‘I then appeared over the brow, cross Lucy had outsmarted me and determined not to let her get away with it. I got back on eventually, but we both knew that she had won the battle as we rode home with the wind behind us.’
My favourite chapter was definitely the titular ‘Till the cows come home’.
It is in this chapter that Lorna’s storytelling ability glistens, as she craftily balances humour and emotion to describe the gut-wrenching event: the death of her favourite cow.
Brain: ‘She never shat on me in the parlour’
I had to hold back tears (both of sadness and laughter) as I imagined Brain’s emotional, and extremely matter of fact, reaction to the devastating news.
In fact, throughout the memoir Lorna deploys this kind of humour that left me grinning from ear to ear urging me to read on.
‘Can you not run faster? I heard Brain shout as I tried, in vain, to stop the calf [..] I wasn’t wearing a sports bra, my jeans were belt-less and kept sliding down and the ground was so rough I was convinced I was going to break or sprain an ankle if I didn’t watch my step. I didn’t respond well to shouts from my husband to run faster either.’
If, like me, Lorna’s recollection of chasing a runaway calf, left you in stitches as you picture the scene/ recall a similar event in your own past of chasing escapee livestock (my attempt to corner a lamb this spring!), you are certain to enjoy the rest of the book’s laugh out loud moments – there are plenty for you to sink your teeth into!
Lorna’s book definitely has a feel good factor about it, through its emotional anecdotes celebrating various stages of Lorna’s farming life and past. It combines history, murder (yes that’s right, MURDER!), birth and agricultural lectures in 24 delightful chapters, leaving you feeling a part of Lorna’s wonderful farming family and her many adventures.
Yet despite our differences in upbringings, Lorna on an Irish dairy farm vs me on a working hill sheep farm in Lancashire, her memoir is littered with sheer relatable content that upon reading brought back floods of memories about my own farming childhood. It left me feeling proud of my farming heritage, my unique upbringing and instilled more motivation to keep writing/blogging about my farming adventures.
As an English Literature graduate I’m extremely picky about which books make ‘the shelf’ but I am certain Lorna’s memoir, for a variety of reasons, will remain treasured on my bookshelf for many years to come – I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I have.
Lorna’s book is going on a blog book tour this month and if you enjoyed reading what I thought of her memoir and wish to find out what others thought of it then the image above has all the details you need!
For those wishing to purchase a copy of this fantastic book for yourselves, the hardback is available from 30/5/18 in all major retailers and costs £12.99. Happy reading!