Brookfield Books - the childrens’ stories hatched from a smallholding near Tarporley
- Credit: Archant
At a smallholding in Clotton, near Tarporley, Alison Parkin hatched a plan – to turn everyday farmyard dramas into a series of children’s books WORDS By HOWARD BRADBURY PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON
When Alison Parkin looks at the animals on her smallholding, what she sees are the characters in her books.
And characters do not come much more colourful than Jim, the West Highland white terrier.
‘Because he was a runt of the litter, he was tiny when we got him and it took him ages to grow,’ says Alison. ‘He’s not afraid of anything, and he loves people. He thinks they are there for his entertainment.
‘He potters about and investigates everything. He chases tractors, he chases bumblebees.’
He also writes a blog...with a little help from Alison, that is. As do several other animals at the smallholding in Clotton, Tarporley, which Alison, aged 51, shares with 52-year-old Noel Nicholas.
Alison has turned the daily doings of Jim the terrier, Jake the Springer spaniel, a little gaggle of Brecon Buff geese, a small flock of Hebridean sheep and sundry chickens into a series of children’s books. And the books are illustrated with photographs taken by Noel.
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‘It’s a challenge,’ says Noel, ‘The sheep are quite cooperative but the others, especially our dogs, Jim and Jake, are always far too busy to stop and pose when there’s barking, running around and digging to be done.’
The Brookfield Books are not just story books - sold nationwide through the website www.brookfieldbooks.com - they are tailored to the National Curriculum for Key Stages 1 and 2 in English. So Alison hopes to see her stories used widely in schools, and has already had support from various countryside organisations to spread the word.
The couple are juggling the publishing business, and the running of the smallholding, with full-time jobs, Noel as a civil designer and Alison doing research work for a small Tarvin company involved in mergers and acquisitions of agricultural businesses.
Both have lived in this area most of their lives, and bought the 1960s house with two acres of land in December 2010.
‘It was not cultivated and there were no animals when we got it. Bit by bit we’ve been building it up.’ says Alison.
In May 2011, Noel had a heart attack and underwent a double by-pass operation. As he recovered, he planned how to divide the acreage into paddocks, orchards and vegetable patches.
Alison kept seeing little pieces of behaviour in the animals which struck her as the basis for stories.
‘We had a couple of sheep, and we introduced a new one, and they rejected her, and were quite nasty to her,’ she says. ‘So she developed these little ploys, for instance when it was feeding time, she would wander off out of sight, so they’d be more interested in what she was up to, they’d go and look for her, and she would then run to the feed trough.’
Life on a farm is, of course, a world away from that of many children who have never had the experience of, say, picking a fresh egg from a nesting box.
But life on a farm also raises matters which may be difficult to explain to the young audience for which the books are designed.
‘We’ve lost one of the original chickens, and at some stage I’m going to have to own up to that,’ says Alison. ‘Chickens do have quite a short life span, and you can’t pretend that everything goes on forever.’