Summer at Skylark Farm by Heidi Swain
When I met with my wonderful editor, Clare Hey, back in the autumn of what now seems like forever ago and she uttered the words every aspiring author longs to hear – ‘We’d like to offer you a two-book deal’ – I felt, as you would expect, ecstatic. Not only was I thrilled for The Cherry Tree Café, the debut I longed to share with the world, but also because I now had the opportunity to write The Farm Novel I had been dreaming of.
Growing up in East Anglia I had the very best of country upbringings. My grandfather, father and his brother (and now his son), are arable farmers. They work acres and acres of the Fenland landscape and as a result I became aware of the yearly crop cycles from a very young age because it was part of our lives. The ploughing, drilling, harvesting and burning were second nature and I can distinctly remember Dad harvesting on a combine with no cab and nothing more than a dust mask to protect him from the debris. Then there was the huge white helmet with some sort of filtration system to help him breathe easier and eventually the dawn of the air-conditioned cab. That was the pinnacle of luxury and now, with technology taking over, you need a degree to understand the on-board computer and tracking data. The only thing you can’t control is the weather.
In complete contrast, my mum and stepdad ran a pig farm and so I was able to study another aspect of farming life and finally, my dear grandfather, rented acres of land on which to grow soft fruit and potatoes. I have written about my childhood summer holidays on more than one occasion since completing Summer at Skylark Farm and have described the strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, gooseberry, plum and potato-picking days as, for the most part, halcyon, which indeed they were.
When I moved away to university I literally ached to be back in the countryside and post-graduation, and just before we married, my husband and I moved to deepest Dorset, then Aberdeenshire, finally settling in Norfolk fourteen years ago.
I haven’t lived on a farm since I left home but we have always lived rurally, kept chickens, grown vegetables, herbs and cut flowers and we always make sure we go out at weekends to reconnect with the landscape and the seasons and it was this aspect of country living which I was so keen to share in Summer at Skylark Farm.
No matter where you live in the UK, whether it is just around the corner or further afield, you are surrounded by a rural economy beautifully adapted to make the best of the land – sheep farming in the fells, cereal growing in the Fens – and it is my hope that Amber, Jake and Annie will encourage you to get out there and enjoy it. Go fruit-picking, wassailing, become a back garden hen-keeper, whatever suits, but don’t let the great British countryside pass you by.