Tag Archives: Tallis Steelyard

Funny way to write a book!


As the late, great Samuel Johnson once said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” It’s all well and good writing a book, how the dickens are you going to get anybody to read it? More to the point how are you going to get them to pay for the undoubted privilege?

At this point I confess that if I was forced to live on my earnings as a writer, I would be writing this from shanty made from pallets and cardboard, situated nicely overlooking a rubbish tip. This is not the blog of somebody who is offering to show you how I made my first million. Indeed looking at my sales, it might well be worth reading this blog only to know what not to do.

Strangely enough I have tended to avoid spending money on promoting my books. This is not merely because I am congenitally mean, but because I do my research. When I see a website offering to ensure I sell thousands of books, I just go onto Amazon and look at one of the books they are promoting. On Amazon every book has an “Amazon Bestsellers Rank.” I merely watch that rank. To be brutal about it, on Amazon.co.uk it takes one book sale to lift the book from 220,000 up to 60,000. So if the book the website claims to be promoting doesn’t have a rank above 10,000, they’re a waste of time.

I went down another track, I decided to blog. Now this blog, the Jim Webster, books and stuff one, started off as somewhere to promote books. I will tell you something for free here, nobody cares. But if I write about my experiences with cattle, sheep and border collies, people are interesting. So actually I rarely do book stuff here. On the other hand, I accidentally created a character, Tallis Steelyard, a poet. As he is a writer, then obviously he has to have a blog. His blog I do differently, each blog post is a Tallis Steelyard short story/anecdote.

Now there’s a lot of writing there, so every so often I collect up blog posts and publish them. So far there are three novella sized ebooks about dogs, quads and livestock. With the Tallis Steelyard blog, there are eight novella sized collections. These always have, ‘and other stories’ in the title so you can recognise them. This way I can just about justify the sheer amount of writing time that goes into blogging.


But what about promoting these books when they’re published? Well obviously I mention them on Goodreads and Facebook. You might have noticed me, one of the tens if not hundreds of thousands of writers trying to get noticed. I decided this wasn’t a particularly successful strategy.

Then I discovered the blog tour. I did a couple in a conventional format, where you as the writer answer a number of questions so the person reading the blog feels they know you. But to be honest, if I do too many of these, I get bored. I shudder to think how the reader must feel. So I decided to do something different.

Because with the Tallis Steelyard blog I had a number of bloggers who liked my work, (I knew this because they would comment on the various stories, reblogged them on their blogs, and bought the books.) I decided it might be fun to work with them.

So I contacted each of them and offered to write a Tallis story for their blog. Quite a lot of bloggers jumped at this opportunity. As any blogger knows, the blog is a maw you are doomed to feed for all eternity, and if somebody offers to feed it for a day, then that’s an offer you struggle to refuse. As an aside, even when I’m not running a blog tour, I’m always happy to write a story for a blogger. Obviously two or three years later the story will inevitably wash up in one of the collections of stories, but it’s for their blog, and whilst I’ll reblog it, I do it from their blog to give them the publicity. Indeed for those bloggers who do like to give writers questions, answering as Tallis Steelyard can be fun, because I can always have him work one of his stories into the conversation.

So I did a few tours like this and they went pretty well. Normally a tour is somewhere from a dozen to fifteen blogs. What I realised is that one of the Tallis Steelyard story collections normally contains somewhere from twenty-four to thirty stories. So every two blog tours I do in effect writes another story collection.

Once things were going well, obviously I had to tinker with it. One or two of the blog tours had a theme. In one, the stories followed Tallis as he was temporarily exiled from the city of Port Naain. Each was a standalone story but they were in some sort of order. Actually it didn’t matter if you missed one or read them out of order, but the theme brought the tour a sense of unity.

Then being grossly overambitious it struck me that actually a novella has about a dozen chapters. So why not write a novella and use it as a blog tour (to promote another novella) and at the end of the tour, you’ve published two books.

Trust me, this way madness lies. But fortunately I was very lucky in my bloggers. I asked people, not because they were ‘important’ (although some of them have an awful lot of readers, whilst others are just starting out) but because they loved Tallis.

So they’re willing to put up with the fact I’m not the most organised of people. In spite of me, we managed to put out a novella and all the chapters came out in the right order!

Since then I’ve done it a couple of times, and people have asked me how I do it. Well the writing of the book is different. You’ve got to tackle it differently. Each chapter will be a blog post. So each chapter has to make sense if read on its own. Not only that but each chapter has to have a natural ending. I know a lot of people who feel cheated by stories ending in cliff-hangers, which mean you have to buy the next exciting episode. So I try to avoid cliff-hanger endings, but somehow want to ensure that whilst the reader is satisfied with the chapter, they do want to read the next bit.

The other thing you have to ensure is that something interesting happens in each chapter. It’s a bit unfair to a blogger to give them a story that consists entirely of plot exposition or back story.


Anyway, it’s really up to you to decide if I was successful or not. Here is ‘Tallis Steelyard, enemies and how to make them.’

This appeared, in its entirety, as a blog tour. (Which has just finished.)

Another novella which first appeared as a blog tour was ‘A measured response.’


This novella is interesting in that it had two endings. One where the blog tour ended, and Benor the protagonist has seen the villain arrested. But then I added a couple of extra chapters after the tour was over that appear only in the novella, which take things a little further as it is discovered that they’d arrested the wrong person and Benor has to help catch the right one.

Set your hand to the plough



I have to start this by stating that I’m not a ploughman. Like a lot of livestock farmers I can get nervous if I see the ground, ‘brown side up.’ But every so often a grass ley will been renewing. So every so often we’ll plough. At the age of sixteen I learned to plough on a tractor with no cab, pulling a three furrow plough. My father learned to plough walking behind a horse.

The black and white photo was taken during the war but frankly the technology hadn’t improved much at our level in the following twenty-five years.

Ploughing with horses was hard work. Not only did you have to walk all that distance, you also had to wrestle the plough as you did so. If the plough started biting too deeply, you had to press down and bring the front end up a little to keep it level. If on the other hand, the plough was starting to come out of the ground, you had to lift the back end up to get the point of the plough share back into the ground again. At the same time you’d be shifting your weight on the two handles to make sure that the share went straight, left or right, depending on what you wanted it to do. Whilst the horse might be pulling, you were steering. And at the same time, you’ve got to keep the horse going in the right direction! Luckily the horse probably knew what to do.

This is the advantage a horse has over a tractor. The tractor doesn’t care and hasn’t a clue. But in reality you set the plough up so that your right-hand-side front wheel drops into the bottom of the previous furrow. So gentle pressure on the steering wheel (often from your knee) should keep it there. The rest of the time you’re looking behind you. The old horseman’s technique of using his weight or muscle on the handles has been replaced by frantically twisting wheels and turning handles to make sure the plough keeps running straight and level.

Getting a plough set up properly involves a lot of skill. I know men round here who before they went ploughing would take the tractor and plough and drive down to the beach. There they would spend half an hour ploughing the sand. This had three advantages.

Firstly the sand polished your plough shares and mould boards so that when you ploughed ‘for real’ the soil would run smoothly over them.

Secondly it gave you a chance to get the plough set up properly on a piece of level ground.

And finally the tide would come in and eliminate all evidence of the total bog you made of it whilst you struggled to get everything set up properly.
But once a plough is set up properly for the ground and the tractor, it’s amazing how much easier it makes doing a good job. I remember hearing a chap talk who’d been on a visit to one of the big state run farms in the Soviet Union. There was a party of them and one of them was a ploughman. They watched this Russian ploughing, using a big nine furrow plough. The problem was he was making a mess of it, and didn’t seem to know how to do it. Eventually the ploughman snapped. He walked out in front of the tractor, flagged it down and started setting up the plough. Then he rode with him a couple of times up the field to show him what to do. When he got off the Russian did a couple more runs up and down the field, then he got off and hugged the ploughman, because nobody had ever shown him how to do it properly.

Still ploughing could be awfully cold work. A lot of ploughing was done during February, and you were effectively sitting, relatively motionless, exposed entirely to the elements. At least when you followed the horse you could stamp your feet to keep warm. Somewhere I still have my late father’s ploughing coat. It was a really good, high quality heavy coat which he’d picked up from a van salesmen for a few shillings because it had left the factory with no buttonholes. That didn’t matter, just throw it on over everything else and tie it round the middle with a piece of baler twine and you’re ready for everything February can throw at you. I can see why so many of them would smoke a pipe. It probably gave you a comforting illusion of warmth.

As a side issue, it’s obvious that Christ was a horse ploughman. As he said, “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God”. The man ploughing with the horse doesn’t look back. All his concentration is on the job happening directly in front of him. The man ploughing by tractor on the other hand, is always looking back, concentrating on what’s happening immediately behind him.

But ploughing isn’t the end of it. Once you’ve got the ground ‘brown side up’ you then have to work up a tilth that a seed can grow in. Even in the 1980s and 1990s, when we would hire somebody with a four furrow reversible plough to do the ploughing (Because they were almost infinitely faster) I’d still do the next phase.

First you’d go over the field with a set of disc harrows.

disk-harrow-250x250These slice the ground up and break up the sods. Then you do the field again, but at ninety degrees to the direction you did it first time. Finally we’d do it a third time, at forty-five degrees to the way you did it last. Finally we’d follow that with a set of spike harrows. These would both create a fine tilth and also they’d help level things up a bit.

After that you’d sow the seed and then roll it.

Now you can follow the plough with a combination seed drill and power harrow. Instead of covering the field seven times, you now need do it three times. Plough, power harrow and drill, and roller. The amount of fuel and labour saved is genuinely impressive!


The saving in fuel means that you’re releasing less fossil fuel derived CO2 into the atmosphere, and the amount of labour saved means that somebody else can have a well-paid job where they commute into the city and work in an air-conditioned or centrally headed office where they can worry about climate change.


Never mind, I’ve got something to take your mind of things.

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Not only have we got Gentlemen behaving badly, we see Port Naain by starlight and meet ladies of wit and discernment. There are Philosophical societies, amateur dramatics, the modern woman, revenge, and the advantages of a good education. All human life is here, or at least such of it as Tallis will admit to.

We continue to explore the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. In this invaluable publication Tallis Steelyard discusses the ways in which a writer can bring their work to the attention of the masses and more importantly, sell the book to them. As well as this, we have the importance of getting home under your own steam, music and decorum, brass knuckles for a lady, and of course, a few simple spices.
Surely this is the one essential book that every aspiring novelist should both purchase and study.


Emulating the graceful swan.



It’s always said that when you see the swan, swimming serenely across the water, you never see the feet paddling frantically to keep it moving. And life is a bit like that.

Today there have been times when I could have passed for a gentleman of leisure. This morning I couldn’t fill cake bins because there was no dairy cake and a delivery is awaited. So I could get on with something else. I wrote up a Tallis Steelyard story because somebody had sent me a picture for inspiration. It’s across at



But after that I was helping sort through lambs to see if any of these fifty kilo thugs was anywhere near ready for going.
Yes, we still call them lambs; even through they left the cute stage behind them six months ago. At this stage it’s not unknown for them to try and slip past you by jumping; after all it worked quite well when they were little. But at this stage in their life, the technique means that 50kg of sheep moving at speed is coming directly towards you at above waist height.

Still some have been tagged up to go, and I went in and got a bit of dinner.


During the morning somebody had mentioned that a neighbour’s cattle had got into one of our fields. So Sal and I went to check this out. Yes, the cattle had got in, but they were in no longer. There wasn’t anything I could do to keep them out, our wire was up so I just tightened our wire a bit more in the vague hope it would act as a deterrent.
On my way home I walked past the house of another neighbour, stopped to say hi. He’d just finished mowing the lawn, which reminded me that I’d meant to do ours yesterday. Given the forecast, our lawn was as dry as it was going to get, so I quickly drove the lawn mower over it when I got back, then talked to a chap about milking parlour fittings, disposed of a spam phone call, had a brew and wondered if the cake wagon would ever come.

Along the way I checked the other sheep and made sure a couple of dry cows who’d been put out to grass for a couple of weeks were all right.

Then I got caught up in a different sort of work. Have you ever contemplated the institution that is the village hall? Have you ever wondered how they survive?
On one level they survive because a small cadre of local people are willing to put in the effort to keep them going. They form the committee, organise fund raising, make sure the place is warm and watertight and generally put in an awful lot of hours.

Then in a good village community there is a rather wider cadre of local people who don’t get involved in the running of the place, but they support the project. They turn up at all sorts of events, sometimes on rotten winter’s nights when frankly they’d rather stay at home. They’ll go and hear concerts of music they’ve never been all that keen on, watch plays that they wouldn’t watch if they were on telly, and smile grimly as somebody else’s ‘delightful’ child struts and frets their hour upon the stage. Yes, they’ll admit that they enjoy a lot of the stuff rather more than they expected, but still, they make the effort.

Then to cap it all, there is the sheer weight of regulation that can weigh down on your entirely amateur village hall committee. Health and Safety, environmental health, building regs, fire regs, forms from local authorities doing surveys of diversity; you name it, these people have to cope with it.

There are people who can help, ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) is one of them, working through thirty eight rural community councils (sometimes known by other names) to provide support to rural communities in all sorts of ways. Perpetually strapped for cash, these community councils do what they can.

Once you lift the lid on this world you discover an amazing amount of work done to provide support to rural people who are struggling to help their community catch up with the rest of the country. These community councils cannot do things for communities, but they can give communities the support they need so they can do things for themselves.

Many rural communities are still struggling to get decent broadband; most are struggling to get accessible medical services. What’s the point of having a brilliant hospital thirty miles away when there’s no public transport and your medical condition means you cannot drive?
It’s not just me who’s keeping busy. Rural communities are full of people trying to ensure that their communities aren’t just abandoned, as banks, retailers and the post office pull back into the towns.

So I look at the paperwork I’ll need to be on top of at the next meeting, and suddenly it’s dark and looking like night. I really ought to have a shower and have a quiet hour or so with a good book, but it has gone 8pm, I’m still wondering it the cake wagon will turn up to blow in a load of cattle cake (the latest one appeared was 9pm) and, almost inevitably, there is a cow who will almost certainly calve tonight.


(Edited to add the feed arrived at 9:30pm and I’ve just landed in at 10:40pm, time for another shower and bed)


Did I mention a quiet hour with a good book? Hot of the press, metaphorically speaking, we have

Tallis Steelyard: Six men in a boat.


It even has a review!

“Runaway Poet, Flat Boat Sailor, Master Gunner, Flower Arranging Judge, Adventurer and Escort of a beautiful young Lady, are only a few of the skills exhibited by Tallis Steelyard in this extraordinary story.
In my opinion, the world and characters from Jim Webster’s mind would make a wonderful TV series, starting with this one.”

Leading TV companies, take note, you heard it here first!

Still travelling hopefully


I had to go and see somebody on  business. Not a pleasure trip, just part of local people earning a living. The problem is, the person I went to see lives in the National Park. They’re only 28 miles away but that trip took over an hour. To be fair, the 10 miles within the Park took up half of the journey time.

Also to be fair, I wasn’t bothered by tourists or even locals blocking the road and slowing me down. It was just the road. It was a road that was designed for use by driven sheep, people riding ponies and the occasional cart. At some point they gave it a coat of tarmac and you never know, they might one day repeat the experience.

One problem the Lake District faces is that it has an infrastructure that would be a bit old and creaking for the forty thousand people who live within the park. But when faced with the twenty million visitors a year the park now gets, it’s totally inadequate.

The photo shows the road over the Hardknott pass, looking west.

As an aside, there is very little public transport within the Park, which means the locals, along with everybody else, are forced into their cars. But for much of the area public transport in the form of a bus service probably isn’t the answer.

Take Coniston as an example. Even if it was the centre of a decent bus service, there is the problem that there are parts of the road where the bus struggles to get past a lorry, a biggish van, or in some cases even the tourist in a Chelsea tractor!
Can you imagine trying to keep to timetable on a Broughton to Coniston bus? Sections of A593 are virtually single track with tall stone walls on both sides.
But the infrastructure problem runs deeper than that. The X112 bus, which runs from Barrow to Coniston through Ulverston, has enough problems on the A590, never mind on the Coniston road. At irregular intervals somebody puts traffic light up in Ulverston near the Booths roundabout and suddenly Ulverston becomes a car park. On Monday I drove to meet a friend in Grizedale and the traffic into Ulverston from the Kendal side was backed up almost to Arrad Foot. That’s about two miles.
On Tuesday I took the ‘Ulverston avoiding route’ to get to Coniston, I went via Broughton. It’s not too bad if you want to get to Coniston or even Ambleside, but a bit of a beggar if you want to go to Lancaster.
But back to the X112, there have been times when they’ve just had to abandon their timetable, and with it any attempt to cover the complete route. So really the problem lies with Cumbrian infrastructure not just Park infrastructure. To an extent the Park is part of that problem. Various environmental and countryside lobby groups put up a bitter fight to stop improvements of the A66 and the A590. These are the two arterial routes which allow people in the West of Cumbria to get to enjoy such frivolities as hospital services and the motorway.
But we then have another problem, even if you fix the roads, where on earth are people going to park? Finding parking in Coniston or any other of the small tourist towns can be a nightmare, they’re full.
Just to add to the pressure, visitor numbers seem to have been growing faster than anticipated, we weren’t supposed to have 20 million visitors until about 2025. At the current rate of growth we’ll pass the thirty million visitors mark in less than a decade.

Anyway it looks that if you’ve got a journey through Cumbria to contemplate, you’d be wise to take a good book with you.

Coincidentally, I’ve just published one

Tallis Steelyard: Six men in a boat

Instead of his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with a gripping adventure. Why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians? Why does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown danger? Who or what was buried in the catacombs? And why has there been so much interest in making sure they stay dead? Also featuring flower arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.

Travelling hopefully


A mate of mine commented, “I didn’t realize how bad of a driver I was until my sat nav said, ‘In 400 feet, do a slight right, stop, and let me out.’”

I must admit we don’t have a sat nav, we’re map people. I don’t just want to know where I’m going, I want to know what’s around me and how the land lies.

But anyway, I had to go into Wales. Llandrindod Wells to be exact. So I looked at the various options for getting there and finally decided to just take the train. In theory the car was quicker but there was too much M6 in the car journey for me to take that prediction seriously.

On the down side the rail journey involved me waiting for over two hours in Shrewsbury because there aren’t many trains on the Heart of Wales line which would take me to Llandrindod Wells. But actually Shrewsbury is worth a look round and it was a couple of hours well spent. The first time we as a family went to Shrewsbury, my Lady Wife was quite impressed with my ability to orientate myself and tell her which way to go. What she didn’t realise was I was navigating from the map of Shrewsbury in the front of the Cadfael stories. The place has changed a little since 1140. There again, the Monastery and the Castle are still in the same place.

I quite like rail travel. Always carry a good book, but always be ready to chat because you meet all sorts of people and it’s amazing what you can learn. Then there’s the scenery. Admittedly I once took the line out of London to Shenfield. That too has scenery. I stared out of the carriage window like Dante visualising his journey to hell.

But the Heart of Wales line doesn’t have that problem, and anyway I was chatting to two locals on the way there. On the way back I got to concentrate on the scenery. The train doesn’t go particularly fast, but I wasn’t driving, flogging along narrow roads and unable to do more than drive with the scenery going past unheeded.

Whilst I did get my book read once I got onto the West Coast Main Line, I did notice that there were still dairy cows grazing, even though it was November. I suspect that there was no real alternative; the dry summer meant that they probably didn’t have enough conserved feed to get them through the winter, so a late autumn bite is going to be a real bonus. It was also good to see people had been able to get a last cut of grass as we were passing, so hopefully it won’t be as bad a winter as people feared. If we have an early spring it’ll ease things for a lot of people. Admittedly if it’s a late spring it’s going to screw things badly for a lot of people, but at the moment there’s nothing you can do about it anyway, ‘sufficient unto the day is the trouble therein.’

If you get the chance, I’d say that Llandrindod Wells is worth a visit. It’s bonny, and friendly enough. It’s not got the stark grandeur of Snowdonia or the Welsh Mountains but it’s none the worse for that.

Oh yes, and whether you go into the heart of Wales, or are just pottering about at home, you’ll still need a good book.

Funnily enough I’ve just released a new Novella.

Instead of his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with a gripping adventure. Why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians? Why does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown danger? Who or what was buried in the catacombs? And why has there been so much interest in making sure they stay dead? Also featuring flower arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.



Yours for a mere 99p, go on, treat yourself.



Spring has sprung?



It’s been longer than normal since I last posted. To be honest I’ve been busy. Yes, Jim has been working for a living. It’s something I’m supposed to do from time to time. But anyway, at the start of the week I had to go down to London for agricultural meetings. They were interesting. Agriculture is in a very unusual position at the moment. Defra is consulting and because two years ago nobody expected us to be where we are, nobody has ‘a plan.’

This is a good thing; it means the consultation is real. The cynic in me normally reckons that you read a standard Defra consultation document, as produced under all governments (party makes no difference here) and you’ll find three options.

One is too hot,

One is too cold,

And one is just right.

And it’s obviously the Goldilocks option that they want to implement and you are supposed to agree with.

But this time it’s obvious that Defra is listening and happy to seek guidance. Which is surely a good thing?
But when I was down in London, the world changed. Obviously London is always too hot and unpleasant, but it was merely a taste of things to come. When I arrived home, Spring had finally arrived. No ethereal maiden elegantly reclining amidst the early flowers. No this year we got the harassed young mum, frantically juggling far too many things at once, who passed through at speed, smelling vaguely of nappies.

But still it was good to see her and everybody is enjoying it. Previously, Sal had abandoned running behind the quad when I went to feed ewes and lambs. Mainly because she had had a bellyful of the general unpleasantness. Now she comes with me again. Whereas previously ewes glowered at the lamb eating wolf descendent that was threatening to prey on their darlings. Now they smile beneficently at her as she stalwartly patrols the fringes of the flock guarding them from some untold peril. She’s still doing exactly what she had been doing, but even the sheep seem to have decided that spring is in the air and the world is suddenly a better, indeed a more wonderful, place.

Not only that but somebody borrowed a loadall and we’re spring cleaning with a vengeance. Plastic in that skip for recycling, metal in that skip for sale. I’ve spent the day cutting up the scrap wood that has emerged out of the various heaps, getting ready for winter.

I’ve been busy in other things as well. I launched a new collection of stories, and obviously I had to tell people so they knew it was available for purchase. (This is a courteous way of saying I did my best to make the internet hideous for people with constant adverts screaming ‘buy my book.’)
One way I do this is produce stories for other people’s blogs. They tend to be people who like the tales of Tallis Steelyard, and so they’re pleased to host a story.

I’ll do a number of stories, and try and link them to a theme. This means that people can follow the story from blog to blog, getting to see a lot of interesting blogs in passing. Effectively it links them together as a ‘tour’. Even more importantly people get to see my stories, like them and invest 99p in a collection of them!

This time, I took my inspiration for the promotion from Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition. I kept the vague theme of Mussorgsky’s pictures but found some of my own and had Tallis Steelyard write a story for each picture. For other people’s blogs this works well, the internet needs pictures and I’m using the highest quality of art.

Half way through the tour I realised just how much work I’d done on these stories. They were virtually a novella on their own!  So I collected together all these stories, and put them together into an ebook. So what you get is thirteen stories plus the pictures that inspired them. Go on, treat yourself, what else can you get for 99p


As an aside it strikes me you might not have come across the Tallis Steelyard blog, which is an endless collection of his stories. It’s here


I would have mentioned it before but I’ve been busy



Apparently in this age of social media, where we’re all on-line all the time, it’s impossible to be out of touch. So if the theory’s right I have no excuse for getting back to you earlier.

But in this beautiful area we are truly blessed. You see, mobile connection is distinctly iffy. My phone, an elderly battered nokia, (which cost me £20 of which £10 was phone credit) lives switched off for 90% of the time. If you’ve not got my personal number don’t let it worry you. When I’m at home there is no signal so the phone lives switched off. When I’m out and about working, the phone doesn’t accompany me because in those few occasions where I won’t be out of signal, I’m busy so don’t want to be bothered with a phone. Finally if I’m in areas where there is signal, I’m either driving, in a meeting, or merely walking quietly from a to b and happy with my own thoughts. So obviously there is no place for a phone.

But I’m pondering upgrading my phone. The Sellotape holding the nokia together is still sound, but apparently it’s one of the first generation to offer colour. Which means you cannot actually read their screen in direct sunlight; which is a bit of a sod if you’re scrolling down looking for a number to phone. Not only that but without my reading glasses I couldn’t read it anyway.
So I drifted aimlessly round various suppliers looking for a phone. I wanted a decent camera, wifi (because when the computer is down we’ve no way to get our email) and a pay as you go contract.

To be fair, some of the sales staff could cope with this. There was only one who was convinced that I should sign up for a £12 a month contract, even through I pointed out that after the first ten months I’d have been better off having just paid cash for the phone. I did try explaining, again, that on pay as you go my phone normally costs me less than £10 a year. But you know what it’s like, the lights were on but there was obviously nobody in. As a previous generation of journalists used to say, “I made my excuses and left.”
So don’t expect anything to happen on this front any time soon. But I might have actually got a new phone by this time next year; or then again, perhaps not?

Still I’ve also been busy. Real life and real work has intervened. Ewes are going out with the tup and everything has to be got ready. The ewes have already been vaccinated, but then we had to get them in, dag them out (cutting away mucky wool from the rear end) treat them for worms, lice and fluke, and finally give them a dose of multivitamins just to make sure there were no hidden deficiencies were weren’t aware of.

Then the tups were wormed and got a good dollop of bright coloured raddle smeared on their chests so we can tell if they’re working or not.

As you can imagine, it all takes time and that means I never got round to telling you about the Tallis Steelyard Blog tour. If you want to follow it the links are, in order




















And if you read them in that order you can follow the story as it develops.


Also, because I ought to have mentioned it before, I have had a SF short story accepted in an Anthology. I’m reading the anthology my self at the moment and there are some cracking stories in it.




Quantum Soul

A holiday

and so it begins


How often does anybody offer you a free walking holiday, exotic food, fabulous vistas, fine wine and guaranteed good company, and all in the comfort of your own home?

Here’s an opportunity to get away from it all. Plug the fitbit into the laptop and let it clock up the virtual miles whilst you get on with something more interesting.

I’ve got a collection of stories to launch. ‘Tallis Steelyard. The Monster of Bell-Wether Gardens and other stories.’ The cunning plan is that I’ll launch them with a ‘blog tour’. Now this normally involves all sorts of good people welcoming me to their blog and saying nice things about me. Which is pleasant as far as it goes but between ourselves begins to pall. It’s not that I have a low threshold for flattery; it’s just that it takes them a distressingly short time to run out of nice things to say.

So I decided to do things differently. I decided that I’d have Tallis Steelyard go on a real tour. Incidents of this tour would be posted on other blogs and I’d reblog them on the Tallis Steelyard blog, so people could find them all.


If you’ve not come across the Tallis Steelyard blog it’s at




Because it’s Tallis nothing will go according to plan, he’ll get into all sorts of trouble and will probably end up slinking back into Port Naain with his tail between his legs hoping that people have forgotten the reason he had to leave in the first place.


But strangely it’s not just about Tallis. There are a lot of fascinating blogs out there. So when you read the Tallis story, remember to look round and see what else the person has on their blog. I’m pretty sure you’ll find all sorts of things to interest you.


Anyway you’ll find the first one at https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/2017/09/24/guest-poet-and-raconteur-tallis-steelyard-a-family-saga/


You’ll have to ‘click on the original post’ to read it all and that’ll take you to Sue Vincent’s blog. When you’re there, have a good look around, Sue has all sorts of stuff on there.

Tomorrow there’ll be the next exciting episode, which I’ll reblog, and this will continue, day after day, until people either scream for mercy or Tallis gets home.


So slip on your metaphorical walking shoes, take a firm grip of your coffee mug, and get ready to set off.


hedge 1

You can get asked a lot of interesting questions when you start writing a blog. You can end up being quoted in all sorts of places as well. Providing part of a clergyman’s sermon on one hand, quoted as part of somebody’s university paper on the other. (In fact because it’s ‘published’ in a blog it can be ‘referenced’ and is therefore fair game to use as evidence. As opposed to something Jim just said because he might just say the first thing that came into his head.

But one question I got was from an American gentleman called Scottie who has a blog of his own at https://scottiestoybox.com/


He wrote, “I am intrigued by the idea of sheep and cattle being kept in an area by hedges. In my childhood my grandparents and uncles had farms. I know that was a long time ago, but I remember the pastures all being fenced. The runs were fenced. I can not recall any area that was simply a hedge. Yet I your writings I have seen you mention the hedges with the sheep before. Just for my curiosity can you expand some time on the subject? Such as how much is hedges alone, do the sheep need to be trained about hedges, why don’t they eat the hedges and so many ideas and questions? Oh and what about predators, do the hedges discourage them?”


It’s questions like that which remind us that it’s a big world, and just how different things are when you travel. So it struck me that for Scottie and others it might make sense to explain a bit.

As usual I’ve just borrowed pictures off the web. None of them is mine, so any artistic flair is entirely that of the original photographer.


The first picture shows a reasonably good hedge. It looks plausibly stock-proof and it’ll keep cattle in for a fair while and but it won’t hold sheep for quite so long.

The problem comes because cattle are by nature a woodland animal and they’ll eat leaves off trees. They love sycamore. Sheep are also happy enough to eat leaves. Both animals will browse, spot something they like, stretch out their neck to reach it, move forward a bit, see something else they like, move forward to reach it, and before you know where you are, they’re through the hedge.

Cattle aren’t too bad, unless the hedge is in poor condition with obvious low spots. They won’t push through solid thorn or even solid sycamore. Sheep will slowly but steadily eat their way through, perhaps because they’re almost coming ‘under’ the thorns.

Hedge 2
The second picture shows somebody ‘laying a hedge’. (Round here hedges are also known as ‘dikes’ but in this case I’ll stick with the term ‘laying a hedge’ because ‘laying a dike’ might loose something in translation.)
To lay the hedge you cut partially through the upright timber, close to the ground. You then bend it over and lay it on top of the last one you laid. Depending on circumstances and local styles you might weave it round posts or you might leave some pieces long enough to be woven around. But this chap is showing you what you have to do every ten or fifteen years to keep a hedge stock-proof.


Picture 3 shows a hedge protected from livestock by barbed wire. If you’ve got dairy cows a hedge like that one will probably be good enough in itself, but with younger stock who are more adventurous it’s wise to have barbed wire. For most cattle you’ll get away with a ‘breast wire’. Looking at the picture, instead of having four wires, you’d have one, the breast wire. I’d suggest you’d probably have the second one from the top.

When we started running cows with their calves as a suckler herd, we put a second wire up because the calves can walk under the breast wire. This isn’t normally a problem because obviously they can just walk back. But sometimes, when it’s wet, they snuggle into the hedge out of the weather. When they ‘unsnuggle’ and stand up, it is entirely possible for them to stand up on the wrong side of the hedge and they’ve inadvertently escaped. So we had two wires, the second a hammer shaft length below the breast wire.

hedge 4

Then for Picture 4, if you have sheep, forget barbed wire. Sheep will push between wires, protected by their fleece. And as they push they gradually work with wires loose, so everything just sort of sags. With sheep you need sheep netting. This keeps the sheep away from the hedge and protects it from being eaten. You notice there is a breast wire above the sheep netting. Personally I’d make that barbed wire not plain. The reason for this is that if you have cattle (or horses) and plain wire, they’ll just use it to rub themselves on. Half a ton of bovine putting its full weight on the wire to have a really good scratch will very soon loosen everything, and at this point your cow will just step over the sagging remains that are left.


So why hedges?

Well in theory they can keep livestock in place without using wire. If you’re back with pre-First Word War levels of labour, you could probably get away without wire. You’ll have enough men to keep the hedges laid, gaps mended and everything stock proof.

Nowadays, you have to have the wire.

The advantages of the hedge are that it does provide excellent shelter, keeping the weather off the livestock, giving them somewhere to huddle when we have driving wind and rain.

There are a whole heap of environmental advantages as well, as each hedge can be a linear woodland connecting up with lots of other linear woodlands. With regard to predators they do provide cover for foxes and suchlike, but then for those engaged in fox control, the hedge is also the road the fox will use and you wait at an appropriate place to intercept the target.

You’ll find that owls and hawks also patrol the hedgerows, keeping their eyes open for rats, mice etc.


So there you have it. Hedgerows for beginners, if we had to start from scratch with an infinite expanse of prairie we probably wouldn’t have bothered with hedges either. But with a century or so to get themselves properly established, they’re pretty useful.


How old are our hedges? Max Hooper was the Biologist and historian who pointed out that as hedges grow older, the number of constituent species increases at a steady rate. In simple terms you get one extra woody species every hundred years. So pace out 33 yards, and count up the number of woody species in the hedge as you do it, the number of species is the age of the hedge in centuries.
It’s a rule of thumb and obviously doesn’t work well if somebody set out to plant a hedge with a lot of different species but it’s reasonable enough. Also I suspect that, because there are only so many woody species to be found in particular areas, it might underestimate the age of some of the older hedges. But I suspect most of ours had been planted before the Mayflower sailed.




Finally, as an aside, I’ve got another book out.


Tallis Steelyard. The Monster of Bell-Wether Gardens and other stories.


Available at


For a mere 99p

Or for Scottie and our American friends, at



for a mere $1.28


More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. It covers the perils of exam invigilation, the problems associated with literary criticism, the benefits gained by hiring erotic dancers and the healing properties of hot water and syrup of figs. An unparalleled guide to the pitfalls which await the honest artist attempting to ply their trade.



This isn’t really my story, but it’s one I thought I ought to share. It concerns a friend of mine so I’ll keep things carefully anonymous. Just in case.

A mate of mine worked with pigs early in his career. He then went on to do engineering and become respectable, but at least he started out with his wellies firmly in the muck. The business he worked for was a mainly arable farm, situated on the edge of a commuter village, and the farm just happened to have a pig unit. The owner always reckoned that the system worked well in that when grain prices were low and buyers were looking for excuses to drive them down even more, his arable business just sold the poorer grain to his pig unit. Pigs were far more forgiving than grain buyers with regard to quality. In his more bitter moments he was known to comment that pigs had better conversation and higher ethical standards than most grain buyers as well.

On the pig unit they had a herd of sows for producing young piglets and a finishing unit for fattening the weaned piglets. The whole operation was run sensibly with ‘just enough’ investment to keep things running properly.

One example of the ‘just enough’ investment was displayed to the world when it came to moving the newly weaned piglets into the finishing building. Doubtless lesser men, more susceptible to the blandishments of those who sell such things, would have had a race in place. But here improvisation won out. The arable side of the business produced a lot of straw. This was used to bed the pigs. So when they needed to move the young piglets all that happened was they made a race of straw bales (all small bales back then). Each wall of the race was two bales thick and three tall. A day was spent building the race, and it was taken down over the next week or so as the straw was used for bedding.

The boss would gather his staff, plus a couple of the most sensible lads from the village. (This is where my mate came into the picture as one of said more sensible lads.) They would shut all the yard gates, and then they would, by judicious use of pig boards, gather up the weaned piglets, and quietly and gently walk them down the straw race into the next building. Sadly, on the occasion I’m talking about a rep turned up. He was a big man with a booming voice from one agricultural supply company or another. He drove into the yard, leaving the gate open behind him. He looked round, saw the straw race, leaned over one wall, saw the piglets approaching him and boomed, “Is there anybody about?”

The piglets panicked, the flow backed up as piglets climbed over each other to get away from the terrifying apparition. At some point the straw wall collapsed and suddenly there were piglets everywhere. At this point the rep disappeared never to be seen again. (There were rumours that the pigs had eaten him but they’re unlikely to have eaten a Ford Cortina as well.)

For days afterwards, well dressed ladies, some in twinset and pearls, would drive into the yard and hand to whoever was about at the time a piglet. This was normally swathed tightly in a towel to act as both restraint and nappy. The conversation was restricted to, “I found this in my garden/utility room/lounge, and no, I don’t want the towel back.”


As an aside, I’ve just published another collection of stories. Not agricultural as such but I hope you’d rather like them.


It’s called,-

Tallis Steelyard, a harsh winter and other stories.