Writing Country Books
When we entered the world of independent publishing, it was perhaps inevitable that the first few books were about the British countryside, the outdoors and walking. I had, after all, spent decades as a freelance journalist writing for the outdoor press, and broadcasting on television and radio. Not to mention nine years as the chief executive of a campaigning countryside group.
Over the past couple of decades I’ve written and published some thirty books for commercial publishers.
From childhood I’ve been a great country walker, walking miles across the landscape, exploring the footpaths and bridleways, the moors and mountains, the meadows and coast. As a volunteer for the Ramblers Association I’ve been involved in protecting our rights of way, and taken part in many of the great environmental protests where National Parks have been threatened.
Thirty years ago I spent an entire year living wild in a Dartmoor woodland, bathing every day in the Dart, waking with the dawn and sleeping with the dusk. I found this quite useful when I was writing my Robin Hood novel “Loxley”.
As an inveterate trespasser I’ve long campaigned for better access to the British countryside. I’ve been evicted from country estates, and even been shot by a gamekeeper – an incident I’ve related in my book “The Compleat Trespasser”.
And I’ve long been interested in the enormous influence country walking has had on English literature. My bookshelves positively groan with the weight of volumes brought about just because the authors enjoyed a ramble or a tramp. Many of our greatest novelists were considerable walkers. Charles Dickens was a noted walker, and a great observer, whether in the countryside or the town. The walker sees things that the non-walker can’t even begin to imagine.
With the decline in markets for outdoor writers I decided to use these experiences to pen a few books on the countryside and walking. At first I considered putting these out with commercial publishers. But then I reconsidered. I wanted the absolute freedom to say the things I wanted to say. To take a position on countryside access. To be outspoken. All of those issues that add grey hairs to the heads of publishers’ editors.
The first of the books was the most conventional. “Rambling – the Beginner’s Bible” is a guide to inspire the beginner, though I was pleased to see from the reviews that more experienced walkers have commented kindly on its contents. I hope it is of use if you have never really walked in the countryside, but want a bit of encouragement to find your feet. It assumes no knowledge of rambling at all.
When this was done my mind wandered on to the thorny subject of trespassing and countryside access. I’ve always been interested in the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass of 1932, when five ramblers were sent to gaol for daring to walk in their own countryside. Appalled by the political trial they had to face with a loaded jury. But their imprisonment sowed the seeds that led to the creation of Britain’s National Parks and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act.
The access movement of the 1920s and 1930s was what led to all of this. I found it dreadful that, in some cases, young men who had fought in the trenches in the Great War were being beaten up as they tried to walk across the country they had fought for, and their comrades sacrificed their lives for. Why is it considered okay to die for your country when you are forbidden access to some of its finest acres?
I wanted to write a popular history of land access, a fascinating subject in itself. Here was my subject. My book “The Compleat Trespasser” gives a history of these events from earliest times up to date. I also put in a few chapters about my own trespassing adventures. And for anyone tempted to roam off the highways, I’ve put in a chapter of guidance for would-be trespassers.
My third country book is “Footloose with George Borrow”. This very brief book of essays is my tribute to the nineteenth-century’s most neglected writer. Borrow was a terrific walker and observer. His books resonate with the joy of the open road. Borrow’s Britain is a land of stagecoaches, footpads and highwaymen, Gypsy encampments and thimblerigs. To read George Borrow is to enter an entertaining and strange world that is often neglected these days. Walking in Borrow’s footsteps, either physically or in the imagination is a true delight!
And are there more country books to come?
Well, yes, I am working on one at the moment. A book of walking adventures. It might be out next year, though the novels, which are more commercial, have to come first.
And thinking of writing a country book of your own? Please do. There is a market and reading outdoor books is a joy.
You can order the books by clicking on the links below. “Rambling – the Beginner’s Bible” and “The Compleat Trespasser” are available as paperbacks and EBooks (Kindle, Kobo and Nook). At the moment “Footloose with George Borrow” is only available as an EBook.
“Rambling – The Beginner’s Bible”
“The Compleat Trespasser”
“Footloose with George Borrow”