Most authors like to get their research right and usually that means ploughing through numerous boring old tomes, sifting through mountains of information to find that one useful nugget that fits our story.
Getting the facts right is hugely important and I, for one, would hate to get it wrong.
Sometimes it means trying things for yourself, however, and occasionally even getting your hands dirty. Like when you’re stupid enough to make your hero a sheep farmer and, during the course of the story, he helps out with sheep-shearing. Yes, that’s what I did for my latest novel, The Velvet Cloak of Moonlight – the hero is from New Zealand and has worked with sheep all his life.
I first tried to learn about it by reading up on the subject and watching YouTube videos of sheep-shearing. (Who knew they have actual contests to see who can do it the fastest? Weird!) I did find out quite a lot this way, but it still didn’t feel as though I knew everything I needed. So when I met up with our neighbour, who is a farmer with a large flock of sheep, I asked him if I could possibly come and have a look when next he was shearing. He said sure, and he’d let me have a go myself. Fantastic!
But yes, scary too.
I’ve never been up close and personal with a sheep before and they seemed quite large when I arrived at the neighbour’s farm. Although they were kept penned in very tightly (this was to stop them panicking and jumping out of the pen as I discovered they were fully capable of doing), they didn’t quite seem to be under control. I spent some time watching in awe as the two shearers worked quickly to grab a sheep at a time and divest it of its fleece in less than two minutes.
This seemed to involve wrestling the animal into position against their legs and somehow holding it there while wielding electric shears, not an easy feat!
Finally, I was allowed to give it a try and I managed, but with a lot of help from the shearer and the farmer.
I have a feeling I may have traumatised the poor sheep for life, as I took a lot longer than would normally have been the case, but it leapt away afterwards and I haven’t noticed any one particular sheep in the fields around us glaring at me so I could be wrong. I can’t say I enjoyed the experience – I was too terrified of making a mistake for that – but it was fascinating and really helped me with the descriptions I needed for my book.
Me holding the wool
There were definitely details I would have missed out if I hadn’t tried it for myself. Such as the fact that the sheep didn’t actually smell bad (I had thought they’d stink of wet wool).
So I can heartily recommend getting your hands dirty in the name of research and I now know that sheep may be bigger than I thought, but they’re quite sweet creatures (with the most beautiful faces and eyes!) and very, very patient with newbies like me. My thanks go to the farmer, shearer and sheep for the lesson!
"As the velvet cloak of moonlight settled over the ruined towers of Raglan Castle, the shadows beneath them stirred ..." When newly widowed Tess visits Raglan Castle, she experiences an extraordinary vision that transports her to seventeenth-century Wales and a castle on the brink of a siege. Even when Tess leaves Raglan to return to Merrick Court, her late husband’s home, the strange dreams continue as her life becomes increasingly intertwined with the past. And when the new owner of the estate arrives - New Zealander Josh Owens - the parallels become even more obvious. But perhaps the visions aren’t just trying to tell their own story, maybe they’re also giving a warning …
EDITOR: Christina is very kindly donating a signed copy of The Velvet Cloak of Moonlight for a future raffle. Details will be on the website soon. Many thanks Christina.