Books, reading and words in general are one of my lifelong passions and very much at the heart of my work. I came to tech editing via a convoluted route that brought together several strands of my life, braiding previous jobs in the bookselling industry and my hobby, into what has become not only my main source of income but also a gateway to an international community of friends, peers and colleagues.
It has long been a little daydream of mine to own a bookshop and I stop and peer through the glass of empty shop units and wonder what if?
A couple of months ago on Twitter I had a message from a hitherto unknown to me book publisher asking if I would be interested in a few Hebridean fleeces. We did a deal on the fleeces but I was also really excited to discover their publication list. Established in 2008, Little Toller Books is a “family-run publishing company that has specialised in books about rural life and local history since 1974” with the aim of Little Toller being “to revive forgotten and classic books about nature and rural life in the British Isles”. They have a wonderful list and I could easily fill a new bookcase with their beautifully bound volumes, but in the meantime I have hand-picked a couple of titles which I know will be of particular interest to you.
The first is A Shepherd’s Life by W.H. Hudson, originally published in 1910 and thoughtfully reprinted with an introduction by Adam Thorpe and engravings by Howard Phipps.
From the back cover: On the surface, A Shepherd’s Life is the story of one man, Caleb Bawcombe, a shepherd whose flocks graze the Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset borders. But through him we meet men and women of humble birth – poachers, gypsies, farmers and labourers – striving to survive on the land. As we read, the cumulative affect of their stories becomes much more than a record of rural life. It reads like a lost hymn, sung by people whose lives were disregarded and whose histories are now forgotten.
W.H. Hudson’s masterful book, merging fiction, reminiscence, memoir and oral history, was recognised as a classic when it was first published in 1910. It remains so today. Our new edition includes the superb illustrations of Howard Phipps.
Aside from his work as an author, William Henry Hudson was a pioneering conservationist and a founding member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Born in 1841 to Anglo-American settlers in Argentina, he moved to London in 1869 dividing his time between the capital and his second residence in Penzance, Corwall before his death in 1922 at the age of 81.
The second book I chose for Daughter of a Shepherd is Island Years, Island Farm by Frank Fraser Darling, a memoir telling the tale of a brave move from England, via Edinburgh to an abandoned croft on the Hebridean island of Tanera Mòr in 1937:
Unhappily land-locked in his early adult life, Frank Fraser Darling’s fortunes changed when he began visiting Scotland’s west coast in the 1930s. Surviving treacherous boat journeys, a broken leg, and hell-bent storms, he made temporary homes with his family on some of the remotest Hebridean islands so he could study the habits of grey seals and seabirds.
Too old for active service, able at last to combine his passion for wild places and his work as a naturalist, he turned his back on the mainland when the Second World War broke. The family finally settled on an abandoned croft in the Summer Isles, on Tanera Mòr, and started farming the barren land. They repaired a ruined herring fishery and its stone quay. They fertilised the ground with seaweed, cut peat for the fires, planted a garden behind sheltered walls. Slowly, they brought life back to the island.
Originally published in 1940s, Island Years, Island Farm spoke to me as part of the daydream so many of us often have about setting up on a far-flung island, of a gentle but incredibly important way of life tied to the land, governed by and at the mercy of the changing seasons and elements.
A Shepherd’s Life is priced at £10.00 and Island Years, Island Farm at £12.00. Both books will be available in this evenings update.
Alongside the Little Toller books I am really excited to be stocking two titles from Candlestick Press, another independent British press also established in 2008 and specialising in poetry. As long time readers of the blog will know, I am a keen reader of poetry, and the ‘Instead of a Card’ range are utterly delightful! Emily Dickinson and Jackie Kay are just two of the poets who’s work appears in Ten Poems About Knitting:
A pamphlet of ten irresistible poems about the joys of knitting – plain, purl and cable stitches morph into poems in which needles flash like rapiers, wool is wound into balls and the door of the local wool shop opens onto hushed knitters, heads bowed over patterns, flicking through the pages in search of the perfect cardigan…
Sitting alongside it is Ten Poems About Sheep, including works by Christina Rossetti and Ted Hughes amongst others:
Not for the faint-hearted, these poems highlight the harsh realities of the lives of sheep. They contrast starkly with the popular image of sheep as fluffy and sweet – rather, sheep become the starting-point for our own humanity, and the take-off point for some unexpected fantasies too.
Both Candlestick Press titles make interesting and reflective reading as well as being lovely gifts for yarn botherers, especially as each booklet comes with a matching bookmark, envelope and sticker seal so all you’ll need is a stamp!
The Candlestick Press booklets retail at £4.95 each and will also be available in the Daughter of a Shepherd online store this evening at 8pm (20.00) BST alongside the penultimate batch of yarn from the 2015 clip. That’s right, the mill have nearly finished working their way through the fibre and I can’t quite believe it has now nearly all gone. Quite incredible, and thank you as always for your ongoing support.