I was chatting to a friend recently, I hadn’t seen her in months and she commented that I had kept my book quiet. Had I really? Surely I had told everyone. But then I realised that between finishing the boarding school book, writing the memoir, editing it and then into calving and the long winter, that I’ve been living the life of a hermit really. I’ve talked about it on social media but I haven’t been out much nor have I been talking about it to people I guess.
So if you haven’t heard the news, I’m going to tell you all about it.
So why did I write a memoir this time round? Well, my agent pitched four ideas (a page on each) to publishers and the childhood memoir, spanning three generations, was the one that Black and White Publishing decided to go with. I knew there was interest in farming stories from the past from the response to specific blog posts, and with my own interest in history, it was a book I wanted to write. It was nice too to sit down with Dad and iron out the details in old stories, as well as getting new stories from him. I’ve always regretted not asking my grandparents more before they died as well as some elderly neighbours so it was nice to have a reason to ensure that I got the records right.
I had a deadline of mid-December, the contract said 15th December and then as I was finishing off the boarding school book, and it was being launched on 14th December, I asked for an extension of a week. I wasn’t expecting my editor to read it over her Christmas break but I wanted to have it finished so I could enjoy my Christmas break. I emailed it off at 3pm on 22nd, and it worked out perfectly as the editors read it when I was on holidays in early Jan and I was raring to go for the edits when I got them around 25th January. Editing and calving resulted in some long days but it all worked out fine.
Working out the Structure
The first challenge was working out the structure of the memoir. Should I write it chronologically? I felt that wasn’t going to work, it might end up too bitty. It might not flow.Some decades would have a lot more stories so it would be uneven. Instead, I created chapters under subjects, so for example, one chapter focuses on ‘Straw’ from the days of the threshing when lots of neighbours came to help, and how the process changed to when hay-making and straw-drawing were the highlights of my summer holidays – and yes, how I used up a couple of my nine lives too.
Why That Title?
Why did I call it Till the Cows Come Home? Last October / November my agent contacted me looking for the blurb and a bio to send to the publisher. They were also looking for suggestions of titles. I came up with a list, asking Sally (the editor of my previous books) for some suggestions too, and of course, Brian and the children. I liked the phrase Till the Cows Come Home for its meaning of something going on for a long time so it suited the idea of the farm being in the same family for generations, it’s often used in conversation, and of course, it emphasises that we are dairy farmers and that dairy is our favourite type of farming. There’s definitely something about cows.
My publishers have put so much work into the cover. When I self-published, I simply gave my illustrator a brief and always found that very little changes had to be made. But I wasn’t looking for feedback from retailers. I asked a couple of friends for their opinion and that was it. Initially, for Till the Cows Come Home, we were going with an arty graphic cover. Then there was a change of mind. I had sent my editor a number of photos as they decided to include some pages of photos from over the years, and they decided to do a mock-up of one of the photos for the cover. I was tickled pink for lots of reasons: it was of Kate walking along the lane; the cows were ambling along so it created a suitably relaxed vibe, and I had taken the photograph.
However, following feedback that suggested it would be better if the photo of me was on the front (and Kate on the back). I have to admit I did cringe and held my head in my hands for a while as I rocked to and fro. If I had self-published, I’d probably have included a photo of myself as a kid, but much smaller and against a farming scene. But that’s because, like a typical woman, I’m not overly keen on seeing photos of myself.
The photo was taken last August. We decided to mark our 25th anniversary by getting some family and individual photos taken and Damien Carroll came out for an afternoon. I knew there was some interest in my book though nothing was signed at that point, and decided I’d get a couple of different photos taken to be used in publicity shots when the book came out. I never suspected I would end up on the front cover of a book. In some ways, it just shows that the unexpected really does happen.
The book has been printed as a hardback with a dust jacket. Looking at photographs, it really does look well.
How will I feel when I see the book? I really don’t know. My previous books were self-published so receiving either 1000 or 2000 books into my hallway was a little overwhelming as my main thought process revolved around “how am I going to sell all of these books?” No pressure.
This time, I’ll be receiving a box of ten books in beautiful hardback with dust jackets and all the others will be in warehouses.
However, will I think:
- Oh, lord, seeing ten of me on the front cover is ten too many, I’ll turn them all over so I can only see the gorgeous back cover.
- Hmmm, pity about the love handles but I can live with that. I’ll probably never wear that shirt again though.
- How am I going to face seeing loads of me at the launch. How am I going to have photos taken with me holding the book.
- Wow, it’s fabulous, I’m so proud to see not only my writing but my own memoir in print?
It will probably be a mixture of all four! I’m hoping there will be a little of the fourth one anyway. Not long to go now as they should arrive within a couple of days.
Book Blog Tour
The book blog tour starts on 31st May, the day after the launch. Book bloggers, historians, farmers and lifestyle bloggers are reviewing the book or interviewing me over the course of a week. It’s always a little daunting wondering what the reviews will be like but I know it’s great for getting the word out there as well as helping the book title appear in the search engines.
A number of people have already endorsed the book, and I’m really grateful to them for reading it in a short space of time. Just to share two with you now:
Sharon Thompson, author of The Abandoned said “A strong female farming voice and a vivid sense of a rural childhood … Drink in rural life for the first time or get lost in pleasant memories. A must-read memoir.”
Ann Fitzgerald, a journalist with the Farming Independent said “A mesmerising tale of Irish farming … From top cow Delilah to the stranger at the silage table, the jobs, joys and challenges are skilfully tied together … Lorna Sixsmith is a natural storyteller in the vein of Alice Taylor.” Ann is launching the book on 30th.
Well, the book launch is happening on 30th May in Dubray Bookshop, Kilkenny, from 6-8pm. If you can come along, I’d love to see you. Here’s the link to the event on Facebook if you’d like to sign in as going.
It’s been such a busy spring that I haven’t had time to start the next book. I haven’t even decided what it will be. I have to admit that my fingers are starting to twitch, longing to get going. I have an idea for a novel, I’ve a number of ideas for non-fiction and I’d like to write some short stories too. So, we’ll see. I doubt I’ll get it started before mid June at this stage but I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in.