Around Christmas, I joked that I wondered if any female recipients of the gift of my book How To Be A Perfect Farm Wife had taken offence and thrown it at the head of the giver. I hoped that the front cover would give them enough hints that while it might sound like a marriage manual, it’s very tongue in cheek albeit with useful tips. One tweeter told me his girlfriend’s aunt told her to throw it at him but it sounded like he got away with it. When coming close to publishing it last autumn, I knew I might have to take some flak – be it from readers who thought (at first glance) the book was sexist or from those thinking I was putting myself up there on a pedestal as a perfect farm wife. The feedback was positive though, I was delighted with the first book review (published in the Irish Independent in September) and readers seemed to be enjoying it. I got a good review in Horse and Countryside too with the editor sending me the full review at a later date.
Lorna’s second book on the ups and downs of life as a farmer’s wife is a delightful read, full of sharp observations on the realities of an agricultural life, mixed with a little social history, the odd recipe and some priceless tips on how to achieve the mythical status of the Perfect Farm Wife. There are more serious chapters too, addressing vital but sometimes neglected topics such as keeping an eye on your farmer’s mental health and paying attention to the maintenance of your relationship. It is a thoroughly enjoyable book and I will be giving copies to several friends who I suspect secretly harbour an ambition of becoming the Perfect Farm Wife.
Then came the review in the Irish Examiner. Somewhat strangely, getting a negative review made me feel like a real author! The reviewer is dating a farmer. She claimed she knew it was tongue in cheek yet saw it as harking back to the 1950s. Some comments were quite funny as she was so indignant such as “surely we’re not expecting them to breastfeed with one hand and milk cows with the other! Are we?” Um, not quite but I do know women who milk cows while the kids are strapped into a buggy in the dairy. I wouldn’t condone it for safety reasons but it does happen. And yes, multi-tasking is essential – you have to be able to answer the phone, keep an eye on the calving camera, help children with their homework, cook dinner and set the table all at the same time.
There’s one illustration in my first book where I describe the ‘hoppity dance’. It happens when you’re standing in a gap helping to sort livestock and you let the wrong one through. Your brain and body just don’t know what to do: should you race after it to turn it back, should you stay there and prevent others following, should you turn and head for the house as you know you’ll be shouted at? In essence, you end up floundering all over the place. Well, I could feel my brain and body do a writer’s version of it as my body wanted to rock to and fro and my head wanted to hit against the wall and my brain went “nooooooo” when I read “And it’s hysterical in parts (whether intentional or otherwise I wasn’t always sure)”. Does this mean that titles of sections such as “How to wear an apron and wellies with flair” are taken literally? Yes, there’s a few salient points in there but all delivered with a pinch of salt.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t value her opinion – it’s good to know that I should make the humour in my third book more obvious. Aisling mentions that “not a chance in the eternal burning fires of hell would I arrive home to find him reading the male equivalent of How to be the perfect farm husband and why should he?” Um, I hope lots of wives buy my third book for their husbands – I’m not 100% sure of the exact title yet but “Ideal Farm Husband” is going to be in there. I shared the review on Twitter and Facebook with the words “I don’t think she got the humour” and I was wondering what reaction I would get – would readers agree? I was relieved to see that virtually all of them who responded had got the humour and with one tweeter telling me that it intrigued her so she was definitely going to get the book.
I immediately grasped what she meant. I do that myself. If I read a review that is too glowing (and there has been debate about Ireland being so small and people knowing each other so well, that it can be hard for reviewers to be anything but complimentary), I tend to be a bit suspicious. It works that way with 5* reviews on Amazon too I think. I much prefer to read books that have a good smattering of all stars and I’m much more intrigued by a newspaper review that points out the positives in a book and also the negatives as I wonder if I’d agree or disagree with the reviewer. Having said that, I was glad this review came out in January rather than just before Christmas!Why getting a negative book review in a newspaper isn't so bad after all Click To Tweet
I was absolutely delighted when Jonathan Bell (author of Irish Farming Life and many other highly respected academic books on farming) reviewed my book in Farming Life.
This excellent book is an effective antidote to the dominant model of Irish countrywomen’s experience during the last 150 years, where farm life has generally been presented as perpetuating a cycle of oppression, alienation, and despair leading to a mass exodus of women from the countryside. Instead, Lorna Sixsmith starts from the premise that most modern Irish farm women are good-humoured, energetic, clever and adaptable, intent on seizing opportunities presented by travel, mass communications and new technology, including farm technology.
This book will have a valued place among other social commentaries that deal with the contingencies of Irish farming life: social histories, anthropological research and novels which, at their best, communicate everyday experiences, and go on to connect these to major social and historical movements. At a more popular level, this book will also fulfil the role of an old friend, waiting quietly until she is needed for advice and reassurance, or is simply sought out for the pleasure of her company.
To say I felt ten feet tall after reading this review is an understatement. I felt it was a huge achievement to have an widely published author and historian review my book but the fact that he thought so highly of it delighted me.
I was chuffed with Karen, editor of The Scottish Farmer contacted me, to say she was going to review my book and interview me for the same feature. And this extract from Karen’s review shows that she “got” the humour and the liberal pinch of salt and I was really pleased to see that she thought it was of use and interest to all women in farming.
And Lorna starts with very high expectations. If anyone can do everything listed in this book without having minor disasters, they should be wearing a red cape. But what the book turns into is more than just a nod to the ups and downs of farm life, it gives really valuable information that is useful even to the most experienced of farm wives.
It follows the role of the farm wife from more traditional times, to the equal partners that most farm wives are these days – even if they don’t say so, your husband needs you by his side. Whether working full time on the farm or juggling a career, kids and helping out on the farm in your ‘spare’ time, the wife’s input has never to be underestimated.
How did I get these reviews as a self-published author? Well, I got to know two of the reviewers online and then met them in person, one I asked to review and the other was a surprise. A person on Twitter suggested I contact an editor in one paper and passed me the email address so that’s how that one came about. Social media really helps in making connections. Another had reviewed my first book so I contacted them again and with another, I sent them a copy of my book and a letter. Somewhat interestingly, I’ve got more newspaper reviews now than Amazon reviews – which is unusual for a self published book. If you’ve read Would You Marry A Farmer or How To Be A Perfect Farm Wife, I’d hugely appreciate if you could review on Amazon – and the more intriguing you can make it for any readers, the better! 😉