Article/page published: 13 January 2017
Last updated: 14 January 2017
The seasons printed their patterns on the fields… but our lives, I thought, would never change. Mum, Dad, Kathleen, Martin, Marion and I, Aunt Jessie and Gran.
Jeannie of White Peak Farm was originally published as White Peak Farm, and was my first novel for older readers. It originally began as a series commissioned for schools radio. I lived in Sheffield at the time, a big, sprawling industrial city in the 80s, and I loved to go into Derbyshire and ramble and daydream, and think how wonderful it must be to live on a farm. So my idea for White Peak Farm began to develop, and I soon found out, by talking to young farmers and teenagers who lived on farms, that it isn’t such a romantic life as townies think it is! I thought how lonely it might be for someone of Jeannie’s age, and how difficult it might be for her brother to convince his father that he doesn’t want to be a farmer himself, and how the demands of this exhausting life take their toll on family relationships.
Now my dream has come true. Since 1993 I have lived on a farm in Derbyshire, not in the White Peak but in the dramatic and gritty Dark Peak. I’m not a farmer, but live in a cottage next to the farmhouse and am surrounded by the bleatings, barkings, clucking and neighing of the fields of a working farm – and sometimes by the utter, magical silence of the sleeping hills. I love it here, as much as Jeannie loves her farm.
After the radio series was completed I developed the idea into a novel, and was later commissioned to adapt it for television. The BBC filmed it in the North East, which didn’t make any real sense to me as the White Peak is an area of Derbyshire, and the novel is very firmly set there. But who was I to complain, and the photography and production were stunning. It was thrilling for me when the television series won an award in New York!