Pipe Dreams: Chapter Seventeen

Pipe Dreams: An Autobiography

E-BOOKS AND PRINT-ON-DEMAND

Traditional publishing is in decline, bookshops and libraries are closing. This is mostly due to modern technology which has given us electronic books.
Many of my friends possess an e-reader, Amazon’s Kindle seems to be the most popular but many similar products are hitting the market and doubtless there will be more to follow.
Like many traditional readers I would not consider any alternative to a printed and bound book in my hands. However, I do not dispute the advantages of an e-reader. One can download a virtual library, carry it in your pocket wherever you go and read it on a train, a hotel room, on the beach or anywhere that you have the opportunity to read.
It is a big bonus for writers and, whilst not a personal fan of these products, I cannot argue against its benefits. There were those early days when I was having 3 and 4 book contracts virtually thrown at me but then came single book contracts, a reduction in sales and, even with a superb track record, problems in finding a publisher.
Now, for myself and many other well-known authors, the good times are back and getting better. E-books are cheap to buy and royalty rates far higher than ever.
Again I am grateful to the Ellett family. First to Pat for her typing, then Fred for his tobacco growing input and now to their son Phil. Not only does Phil offer a wide range of technical services but his expertise in creating and marketing e-books (as Scan2ebook.com) is quite amazing. He and Fred have built a scanner which enables him to scan a book in a fraction of the time it would take to sit and turn pages.
So, virtually all of my books from my first in 1974, through to my latest are available for downloading.
Of course this electronic facility enables anyone to publish their books regardless of quality. There is, and always will be, rubbish out there, badly written drivel which nobody wants to read. It simply won’t be downloaded. Equally it gives new, talented authors a platform to ‘get their work out there!’
However, for myself and doubtless many other writers who have proved their worth in the days of traditional publishing, their sales will be excellent. I have no doubt that with future technology this will get even better.
Only time will tell.

Print On Demand

In addition to e-books there are Print-on-Demand services available so the opportunity to read a ‘proper’ book has not been lost forever. It is there, available to authors and complementary to e-books so the best of both worlds can be enjoyed.
We use Amazon and I can only compliment them upon the quality and rapid turnaround provided by their POD service, and at a reasonable cost.
So, this is the new face of publishing. I feel that we have only scratched the surface so far.

2016 GNS Fan Club Convention

Click to enlarge

GNS Convention 2016

Sunday September 4th 2016 was an occasion which will remain with me for the rest of my life. The 25th anniversary of the annual Guy N. Smith Fan Club Convention was destined to become the most memorable of all although I had no inkling of what was in store.

Fans began arriving around 1pm, both familiar and new faces. After a day of torrential rain on the Saturday the skies slowly cleared and some of us sat outside. Our regular caterer had put on a superb buffet.

Paul Adams, the well known paranormal author, gave a fascinating talk on hauntings through the ages. Then it was time to browse the sales table and the GNS backlist.

My latest horror novel ‘Carnage’ was launched on the day. It was a bit touch and go whether we would have enough copies but fortunately a late order arrived in the afternoon so all was well.

Then just as the occasion was drawing to a close, following a group photograph, one of the fans, Justin Park, stood up and announced that he had a presentation to make to me on behalf of all of my fans.

This was a beautifully produced hardcover book of over 300 pages entitled “Hell of a Guy”. The stunning cover depicted a decapitation of GNS by one of his own giant crabs, along with a caracal, a bat out of hell, snakes, locusts and many more. My creations, the figments of my imagination over the last 40 years were taking their revenge upon me.

Click to enlarge

Guy’s first look at “Hell of a Guy”

I was overcome, there were tears in my eyes and my voice shook as I thanked those concerned. What a magnificent gesture of their appreciation of my work. I would add that the short story contributions by 18 fans were exceptionally well written. Any one of them could have been standing in my shoes on that day. I’d better up my game!

My sincere thanks and congratulations to Justin Park and Chris Hall for a truly splendid book which will have pride of place in my collection.

Sadly the day came to an end. One or two of my fans had been concerned that this 25th Anniversary might signal my retirement. It has crossed my mind but not yet. Already I have the 2017 Convention in mind. I even have a theme for it!

Guy

The Pony Riders: Book of the Month – October 2016

“The Pony Riders” was certainly a departure from my horror novels. It is also my lengthiest novel at 380 pages.

Why, then, did I write a western? Since boyhood I have been an ardent fan of westerns, and tales of the pony express captivated my imagination, especially those featuring the notorious gunman J.A. Slade. Slade, though, was romanticised in some of the stories about him in boys’ papers. In reality he was a drunken gunman and murderer which is perhaps why he was appointed Road Boss on a section of the route ridden by those brave carriers of the U.S. mail.

Mark Twain wrote of him “He was so friendly and gentle spoken that I warmed to him in spite of his awful history. It was hardly possible to realise that this person was the pitiless scourge of the outlaws, the raw-headed-and-bloody-bones the mothers of the mountains terrified their children with. And to this day I can remember nothing remarkable about Slade except that his face was rather broad across and the cheek bones were low and the lips peculiarly thin and straight. But that was enough to leave something of an effect upon me, for since then I seldom see a face like that without fancying that the owner of it is a dangerous man.”

All of the pictures which I have seen of Slade portrayed him dressed in black with a matching brimmed hat.

As a boy, armed with a toy cap-firing pistol, I used to pretend that I was J.A. Slade, gunning down outlaws and Indians.

Moving on many years, Jean and I went to New York to meet my Zebra editors. We were taken to lunch and clearly they were looking to commission my next two horror books. That was when I dropped my bombshell announcing that “I would like to write a western!”

There was a stunned silence, then “well, let us have a synopsis and some sample chapters and we will give it every consideration.”

I did just that on my return home and “The Pony Riders” saw publication in 1997. It was a factual history with a fictional plot interwoven. Of course, one of the leading characters was J.A. Slade.

It was published under the Pinnacle imprint and did tolerably well. In fact I recently noticed that a copy was offered on the internet at £30!

For myself, J.A. Slade lives on.

I have it in mind to write another western sometime. I wonder how it would be received by my current fan base.

Pipe Dreams: Chapter Sixteen

Pipe Dreams: An Autobiography

PIPE SMOKING

In recent years smoking has become anti-social and if you indulge then you may well become something of a pariah in this age of political correctness.
I do not dispute the fact that smoking is injurious to health but I, and many others, believe that pipe smoking is less harmful than cigarettes. Anti-smoking propaganda virtually always focuses on cigarettes with no mention of pipes. I would like to regard this as a compliment but the truth is that pipes are forgotten simply because this type of smoking is no longer fashionable. Indeed, it has not been for some years. Pipe smokers are declining in numbers, I believe the reason is basically laziness.
‘Cigarette smoking is a habit, pipe smoking is a hobby.’ I quoted this saying of mine to my doctor but he appeared not to understand.

Pipes

A pipe is a very personal possession. We all have a preference for a particular shape, large, medium or small. It has to suit you both in comfort and style. It is a companion which will accompany you wherever you go. A promotional leaflet from the 1950’s asked “why is it that happy philosophers, handy explorers and clever writers all plump for a cherished old briar as their favourite smoke?”
Answer: ‘Because, of course, there’s nothing so satisfying as a pipe carefully filled with discriminatingly chosen tobacco, then as carefully lit, and slowly smoked to savour the full tang of it.”
Equally as important as the choice of pipe is that of the tobacco to be smoked in it. It is advisable to start with one that is not so mild that it burns the tongue or too strong so that you find it nauseous. In other words, one of medium strength. Flavours are many, personally I prefer a ‘straight’ Virginia blend.
I have smoked a pipe since I was 14, back in my Wrekin College days when a gang of us used to congregate in the wood alongside the canal at Eyton-on-the-Weald-Moors. We had a communal pipe! It was of foreign manufacture and, unlike a good quality London briar, did not smoke cool. The whole affair was more of a lark than anything else but soon afterwards I purchased a decent briar and kept it hidden in my tuck box.
In those days there were hundreds of different tobacco brands on the market, some which had stood the test of time for half a century or more. Sadly, today the majority of those are manufactured under license in the EU! I purchase my requirements from two of the few remaining tobacco manufacturers in Britain, Samuel Gawith and Gawith Hogarth, both located in Kendal and hand blended to perfection.
I smoked cigarettes up until I was 23 and then concentrated on my pipe. A pipe is relaxing, soothing and I can honestly say that it aids my concentration.

The British Pipe Smoking Championship

There have been pipe smoking clubs around the UK for many years and competitions were nothing new. Then in 1996 it was decided to hold a British Championship. At the outset this was organised by Martin McGahey, a tobacconist from Devon.
The venue was the Old Silhillians Club in Knowle, Warwickshire, certainly a fitting establishment for the occasion. It was open to anybody, the entry fee in the early days just £10. The tobacco trade sponsored and supported the event, one room of stalls, the other lined with long tables where the competitors sat and smoked.
The rules were simple but strict, and there was an umpire at the head of each table. Pipes were donated, often of an exclusive make and each member was provided with 3 grams of tobacco, three matches and a tamper.
You were given five minutes to fill your pipe before the starting bell. Then you lit it, but were not allowed to re-light it if it went out. You could tamp (tap down) the burning tobacco so long as you did not remove your pipe from your mouth whilst doing so. I have seen more than one competitor break this rule and be disqualified immediately.
The first one to go out was awarded the ‘booby prize,’ a large box of Swan matches. The room was thick with smoke. No windows were opened as a draught can cause tobacco to burn faster.
Entries ranged from 28 in the beginning to 48 as the years rolled by. There was always a crowd of spectators seated at the other end of the room. Rarely did I hear anybody coughing, another bonus in the ‘pipes versus cigarettes argument.’ NHS please note!
Everybody smoked in silence. A glass of water was provided in case one needed to moisten one’s mouth. On the half hour competitors began to ‘go out.’ They left the table, reported to the invigilator’s desk where their time was recorded.
In the first of these competitions I finished 13th, not bad for a first try. The second year I made it to 5th. By then I had developed my own technique. The more one drew on the pipe, the quicker the tobacco burned. The secret, I discovered, was to breathe gently down the mouthpiece. This kept the pipe alight without speeding up the burning process.
There were some experienced smokers amongst us every year, notably Andrew Briggs and Len Ellis, both of whom held an enviable records at both club and national level.
My personal triumph came in 2003. The pipes were of cheap foreign manufacture but the tobacco was Dunhill’s ‘My mixture 965.’
All was going well. As usual there was a glut of competitors going out after half-an-hour. Len Ellis was one of them, it wasn’t his day. After the hour we were down to four, then three and eventually Andrew Briggs and myself remaining. I was delighted, at least I would get to second place!
Then, on 1 hour and 30 minutes, Andrew stood up, knocked out his pipe and announced “I’m out.” It was incredible. I lasted another 31 seconds and then became British Champion with a time of 1 hour 30 minutes and 31 seconds!
So, I had the coveted cup with my name engraved on it and several prizes, amongst which was a pipe worth in the region of £250. I was interviewed by both Sky and ATV television, who had been present with their cameras throughout, and featured in a couple of clips on local TV news.

Pipe smoking Champion of Great Britain 2003

Pipe smoking Champion of Great Britain 2003

The following morning I thought that the telephone would never stop ringing. I did more phone interviews with newspapers than I had ever done in one day about my books.
Sadly, the British Pipe Smoking Championship terminated in 2007 due to the ban on smoking in public places. The Old Silhillians Club was apparently classed as such although it had always been used for pipe smoking on that one day in the year previously. I fail to understand why it could not have continued with those not connected with the event being refused admittance.
Then, in 2012, the event was resurrected, held at Newark Showground in Nottinghamshire. I did not attend but, if it continues, I may well do so in the future.
I have my memories of 12 convivial championships, not to mention my moment of glory!

Tobacco Culture

Prior to these Championships I had taken up growing tobacco as an extension of my other gardening interests. Whilst there is a potential for growing tobacco in the UK in no way can the quality of the leaf compare with that of Virginia, USA, the South American countries, Zimbabwe and South Africa due to climatic conditions.
In 1948 tobacco growing for personal consumption was sanctioned by Parliament. You cannot sell it or even give it away without falling foul of Customs and Excise. The only proviso is a limit of 25 lbs per grower which is ample.
My first attempts were rather discouraging. I smoked my finished product out of sheer obstinacy!
Then I became friendly with Hubert Appleyard, librarian to the City of Lichfield. Hubert’s methods were somewhat unorthodox and bore little resemblance to those instructions supplied by the Tilty Tobacco Centre, the UK society for the hobby.
I learned much from Hubert and spent many hours with him in his garden. After his death in the 1980’s I inherited his processing equipment, presses, shredders etc., as well as many jars of tobacco ready for smoking.
UK grown tobacco needs to be mixed with a commercial variety in order to render it truly smokeable. Of the several varieties of leaf which I have grown I consider Brazilian to be the best.
I then began growing tobacco seriously in conjunction with Fred Ellett, husband of Pat who had typed most of my early books for me. A farmer, Fred decided that we would grow a row of Brazilian plants in one of his fields.

Crop of Brazilian Tobacco

Crop of Brazilian Tobacco

The project was highly successful. Next, came Fred’s engineering talents, a press which compressed the leaf into blocks which fitted the shredder. The blade used for the latter determined the ‘cut’ of the leaf, broad for pipe or fine for cigarettes (roll-ups). You can of course, roll leaves to make cigars, using a clear gum to ensure that they do not unfurl. Or grind it into a fine powder to make snuff.
Having achieved what I then considered to be the ultimate in perfection of growing, curing and processing home-grown tobacco, I then decided to write a book describing my methods and in 1977 ‘Tobacco Culture, a DIY Guide’ was published.
I would not attempt to take the credit for all the information therein. Much of my knowledge came from Hubert Appleyard in those formative years, the rest a process of trial and error.
Fred Ellett made a valuable contribution to this book, providing detailed diagrams of the equipment which he had designed and made.
I have not grown tobacco since our move to Black Hill in 1977 simply because it is difficult to grow at heights of 1,000 feet above sea level in the UK. I don’t need to, I still have a couple of tea chest in the attic containing dried leaf which keeps indefinitely.

Processing home-grown tobacco

Processing home-grown tobacco

There we have it, then, tobacco for that pipe which has played a role in the writing of all of my books.

Carnage

Latest new title from Guy.

CARNAGE

Available to purchase at Fan Convention or pre-order for members of GNS Fanclub until 11th September.

High in the mists of the Welsh mountains lurked ferocious creatures hunting human flesh and blood.

The Lewis family had hand reared a pair of baboons which lived with them for several years in their remote home.

Then came the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act which demanded costly security to be installed. They could no longer afford to keep their pets so they secretly released them in the Welsh Mountains.

Nothing more was seen of the primates but they had reared their young, hidden from humans, in the vast forests and mountain mists.

Then, forty years later, the killings began and the mountains became a dangerous place for climbers and walkers.

 

To pre-order use contact details following the “Contact” link at the bottom of this page.

The Busker: Book of the Month – September 2016

By the mid-1990’s traditional genre publishing, including horror, had virtually disappeared. It was a trend which was not doing fans any favours.

At that time I was doing very well with Zebra/Kensington, USA, but out of the blue they informed me that they were discontinuing their horror list and concentrating on self-help books and romances. In view of my encouraging sales I was not pleased to put it mildly.

So I decided to try self-publishing. This was in the days before e-books and Print-on-Demand so I had to go down the traditional road and found a very reasonably priced printer in Ireland. There was much work involved in preparing a manuscript for the printers and I am indebted to Hal Astell for his help in this.

“The Busker” was published in 1998. It had already been short-listed for the Lichfield Prize and, following other short-listings in previous years, would have been published by Sphere who sponsored these awards. But, of course, Sphere were no longer interested in horror!

I had set this unusual horror novel in the City of Lichfield. A somewhat unusual dark fantasy theme, it was launched there at the James Redshaw bookshop with a very encouraging attendance on the evening.

The cover picture was provided by my good friend, Andrew Compton, a professional press photographer. As we decided upon a picture of the Busker, the central character, I decided to pose for this, clad in ragged garb, a hat pulled down over my face in order to hide my identity.

Then, one of the fans at the launch, raised a hand and asked “who’s the Busker then?”

I had my explanation ready, that there had been this tramp in the district for some time and I had paid him a quid to lie down in the grass and have his photo taken.

“Then why is he wearing your pullover?” the fan fired back at me!

Okay, I then had to admit to being the Busker on that photo shoot.

Pipe Dreams: Chapter Fifteen

Pipe Dreams: An Autobiography

The Fans

At the outset having a Fan Club seemed somewhat egotistical. I thought of calling it ‘The GNS Appreciation Society’ but that seemed even more so.
The Fan Club was founded in 1990 at the request of a few loyal fans. They wanted something to identify with. Once it was announced we had some thirty or so members within the first week after which it slowed to a steady flow.

Graveyard Rendezvous

The fanzine ‘Graveyard Rendezvous’ was the brainchild of Andy Hurst who put together the first five issues at his own expense. Then he announced that he was moving abroad to live but we were unwilling to let this publication fold.
So I took it on along with my other work. This was prior to advanced technology so all I had at my disposal was a typewriter and photocopier. I concentrated on one or two ‘special issues.’ There was an ‘Execution Special’ and others that centred on latest book releases and launches.
Suitable material was the main problem. We wanted articles rather than short stories. A few were forthcoming but we accumulated a bulging file of fiction. Most of this was very good but the fans were demanding GNS features which simply were not forthcoming.
GR has not ceased publication. We are simply seeking a fresh approach and somebody to produce it for us.

The Fans

The fans are the most important part of my writing career. Without them nobody would buy and read my books. Over the years I have attempted to meet and socialise with them, whether it be at book launches or at my annual Conventions. As a result many of them have become personal friends.
One loyal fan for many years has been George Parkes from Derbyshire, an ever present guest at the Conventions with his wife, Mollie and grandson Steven. Sadly George passed away in April 2013. I shall miss him.
Then there is Shane Agnew, a completist collector of my books and anything related to them. He and his wife usually stay in the area over the Convention weekend. On one occasion he called with 100-plus books the night before the event as he realised I would not have time to sign them all on the day!
He had even tracked down a short article I wrote for ‘The Countryman,’ that digest-sized magazine which has been running for many years. The piece in question was about 100 words in length describing how I had made a bilberry ‘comb’ out of a tin mug with knitting needles welded on to it. A sweeping movement through the low growing fruit bushes saved time and labour as opposed to picking the small berries one by one. Naturally one accumulates their tiny leaves but, on returning home, one tips the contents into a bowl of water. The foliage floats to the surface leaving the fruit to be scooped up from the bottom.
A far cry from horror fiction but Shane was delighted to find a very rare GNS item.
Paul Evans usually arrives with several carrier bags bulging with GNS books. In addition to his personal collection he sells them on eBay. I am happy for him to do this.
Chris Hall has long had an ambition to be mutilated by the Crabs. Could I arrange this? No problem, I can always use an extra victim! So he perished in ‘Killer Crabs: The Return’ the latest crustacean saga in 2012.
Some authors charge a signing fee. I never have and will never do so. If a fan has been kind enough to buy one of my books then I will willingly sign it for him, or her. If this leads to a profit for them, then fair enough.
Some fans choose not to attend Conventions for one reason or another. But fans they are, like Diane Bird of Norton Canes, near Cannock in Staffordshire. She has a drawer in her bedroom full of signed GNS books. Sweet dreams, Diane!
Abby Matthews had a small shop in Bishop’s Castle for about a year. It was called ‘Life is Beautiful,’ selling gifts, cards and many lovely, unusual items. She also stocked my books. Sadly, like several other small businesses in this charming rural town, it did not pay its way. It has now closed and Abby is working from home, selling on eBay.
So many marvellous fans, I wish I had the space to name them all.

Conventions

Fan Club Conventions were a natural progression from ‘Graveyard Rendezvous.’ It was a means whereby I could get to know as many fans as possible personally.
In the beginning we held these gatherings at different venues but after two or three years the general consensus was that fans preferred them at my home. So that is where they have been held for the last fifteen years or so.
The first Sunday in September has always been the date of this annual occasion. We start around 1pm and there is a buffet and drinks supplied to last all day.
I try to dedicate at least an hour or so at the start to meet new fans and catch up with the familiar faces. Then we open up the book rooms for browsing and buying.
Around 4pm, we hold an auction of up to 20 lots of GNS collectibles. In addition to scarce, signed editions, there are manuscripts, artwork and a wide range of ephemera such as the miniature working gallows which was used as a prop at several signing session of ‘The Hangman.’
There is no set departure time. Fans are free to stay and chat to me for as long as they like. On some occasions the day has not ended until after 11pm.
These occasions are a truly pleasurable part of my writing career. I hope they will continue for a few years to come.

Dixon Hawke Stories

Dixon Hawke Stories

From boyhood I had always been fascinated by the adventures of Dixon Hawke and his young assistant Tommy Burke. They were really carbon copies of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, as were Sexton Blake and Tinker.

Hawke stories were launched by D.C. Thomson in 1919 in a small 100-page booklet, ‘The Dixon Hawke Library’, which was published until 1941, 576 issues in all. Then we had the annual paperback of short stories which lasted until the early 1960s.

Alongside these publications were Hawke stories in Thomson’s boys’ paper, “Adventure”, launched in 1921. They were somewhat different, though, as here the Dover Street detective featured in yarns which were full of action, whereas in the case books and the earlier ‘libraries’ he solved his cases by his powers of deduction.

Then in the late 1960s on a holiday in Scotland I discovered that the “Sporting Post”, Thomson’s weekly football paper, carried a complete DH short story. So I decided to give it a go and submitted a 1,000 – word mystery.

The outcome was that my story was accepted and the editorial director wrote and invited me to meet her for afternoon tea at a Birmingham hotel. Over tea and scones she explained that they needed a weekly DH story and was I interested in writing more for them? I didn’t need asking twice!

My next two submissions were accepted, followed by a rejection of my third for a trivial reason. I could have amended it but D.C. Thomson did not work like that – it was either an acceptance or a rejection. Eventually I sussed it out. They considered that 52 stories a year was too heavy a workload for one writer so the purpose of the editorial director’s tour of the UK was to assemble a team. That way they had more than enough stories so some had to be turned down.

In due course I had a file of around half-a-dozen stories that had not been accepted. However, it became clear to me that DH editors were changing around every six months. So I tested “newcomers” with some of my rejections – and in many cases had those stories accepted!

I wrote numerous DH stories up until around 1974. By that time I had had my first horror novel accepted and another commissioned by New English Library. Nevertheless, writing Hawke stories, creating mysteries and the various ways in which they were solved, was an excellent learning curve for a young writer.

Sadly Dixon Hawke disappeared when the “Sporting Post” ceased publication in May 2000. His adventures were many, outnumbering most other fictional sleuths. Gone but not forgotten, at least as far as I am concerned. He was a good friend to me.

Night of the Crabs: Book of the Month – August 2016

By 1975 I had achieved my ambition to become a professional author and that year I left my job in banking to go full time. It was a nail-biting move, though, and my main concern was for the future. Would it be sufficient to provide an income which would sustain a wife and three children? Angus, our fourth child, was born in 1976.

I had already submitted the manuscript for “Night of the Crabs” to New English Library but they had not advised me of their publishing plans except that it was due to be released in the summer of 1976.

In July that year we went on holiday to Barmouth where the book was set. So, one balmy evening we were meandering through the town where most of the shops were still open. Gavin, our eldest son, wandered into W.H. Smith’s and suddenly there was a loud shout from him that had heads turning. “Dad, they’ve got hundreds of your books in here!”

So it was. A major instore display on shelves and a central revolving rack labelled “The No.1 Beach read.”

The shop manager approached me, enquired if I was the author, and then asked if I could possibly do a signing session – there and then! The outcome was that I ended up sitting at a table inside the doorway signing copies for a seemingly endless queue of buyers.

That was just the start. “Night of the Crabs” was on sale just about everywhere, had already been reprinted before publication, and saw 9 subsequent reprints and a number of foreign translation rights sold. Four months later the movie rights were purchased by Amicus.

A year later I fulfilled another of my ambitions, selling our house in Tamworth and moving to Black Hill, a remote area of the Shropshire/Welsh border hills where I already had the shooting rights and had been travelling here for the past 14 years.

Jean and I still live here today as my fans are well aware, many of them having attended my annual Fan Club Convention here. This year is a special occasion with my convention celebrating its 25th anniversary on Sunday, September 4th.

Pipe Dreams: Chapter Fourteen

Pipe Dreams: An Autobiography

BLACK HILL

The Tamworth area and its surrounding countryside had been a wonderful place for my upbringing. However, times were changing. As early as the 1960’s historic areas of the town were demolished to make way for modern monstrosities.
Once a countryside area, it was fast becoming urbanised. I was far from happy at what I saw around me and I would have moved on had it not been for the shackles of my banking job.
From 1963-1977 I had travelled the 70 miles to my shoot on Black Hill in the Shropshire/Welsh border hills and longed to live there. Then, with the overnight success of ‘Night of the Crabs,’ this dream became a reality.
November 1977 saw us at our new home on Black Hill, a remote area 1200 feet above sea level and with only three other dwellings in the immediate vicinity. It was heavenly from day one. No street lighting, hence no light pollution. Complete silence except for birds singing and sheep bleating. By night the owls hooted eerily.

The Wain House

The Wain House

This had been the setting for ‘Werewolf by Moonlight’ and its two sequels. Now I was here and there were many more books to be written. Black Hill had the right atmosphere in which to write them.
We had 7½ acres of land, a steep hillside with just half-a-dozen mature oaks and a magnificent Dutch elm which within a year had fallen victim to the disease which had virtually wiped out this tree species throughout Britain.
Our ambition was to become as near self-sufficient as possible. So our new smallholding was started, growing as much veg (organically) as possible and introducing livestock.
We had a couple of goats which we milked twice daily, free range poultry, guinea fowl, bronze turkeys and peacocks. It was hard but very rewarding work.
I still rented the shooting rights of the adjacent Forestry Commission land but in the meantime I concentrated upon creating a mini shoot on our own small acreage. This entailed the planting of two spinneys, mostly self-sets from woods where I had previously shot. Naturally, many came from Hopwas Wood. I was growing a nostalgic recreation of my past.
We made a fairly sizeable pool for both wild duck and our own domestic flock. This was achieved by bulldozing a shelf out of the hillside and using the rubble for banks. At first it was lined with heavy duty polythene but years later was replaced with a butyl liner.
Today, surrounded by a mass of undergrowth, it is almost a natural pool. Gamekeeping, especially predator control, is a priority if pheasants and small wildlife are to survive. Conservation is important to us so we have installed bird nesting boxes in both spinneys.
Then, in the early 1990’s deer moved up into our part of the hills where previously they had been non-existent. They were roe but later came a few muntjac. Only recently wild boar have been seen and shot in the vicinity. These have undoubtedly come from the Forest of Dean where they are breeding prolifically. Shooting pressure there has resulted in these pigs extending their territory.
Naturally, we had to adapt to a totally different lifestyle. Chapel Lawn school, 3½ miles away, was excellent with very dedicated teachers. Rowan, our eldest daughter, being deaf, required specialist schooling. The nearest facility was in Shrewsbury and every morning a taxi used to collect her and bring her back in the evening, a special needs service supplied by the county council.
Our arrival on Black Hill coincided with a series of harsh winters from the late seventies into the eighties. We were snowed in and cut off from civilization on numerous occasions. We didn’t mind, we had our stocks of food and fuel. We were warm and well fed as were our livestock.
Children grow up, get married and leave home. So it was with ours, one by one they left us and nowadays there are just the two of us.

DONKEYS

We had donkeys when our kids were in their teens. While they had requested ponies I realized that before long I would be looking after them so I persuaded them to have donkeys instead. I do not regret that decision.
I bought JJ, a lovely, gentle 6 year old. The following winter we had deep snow and I felt sorry for her being confined to her shed on her own for several weeks, so I decided to get her a mate.
The Donkey Sanctuary is the best source for anybody looking for one. They are seeking to re-home ‘rescue,’ animals that have come to them for a number of reasons. Each one is thoroughly checked by their vets prior to being sent to a new home and all perspective new owners are also scrutinized for suitability. Thus you can be assured that your donkey is in good health and also count on the support of the Sanctuary whenever needed.
Donkeys are relatively cheap to keep. Apart from hay in winter and a few nuts daily, their food ration is mostly grass and access fresh water. Although not particularly orthodox, my donkeys get a ginger biscuit every day as a treat and they love them. I provide them with a shelter with straw in the winter for warmth and comfort. They need to be ‘wormed’ in spring and autumn and the vet gives them an annual MOT and rasps their teeth as required. Finally, my farrier comes regularly to trim their feet.
JJ lived until she was 36 and during this time she had three male companions. Benjamin died from ‘grass sickness,’ a complaint which is still undergoing research. He was the only UK reported incident of a donkey dying of this ailment. Very sad.
His successor, Jimmy Roebuck, died suddenly of a heart complaint. Then came Donks who outlived JJ and then died at age 31. I then had an opportunity to dispense with Donkeys but the Sanctuary sent me Elizabeth (Lizzie) just 3 months prior to Donks’ death. Once again I was left with a lone, female donkey in need of a companion. So, ‘Bo’ arrived and at the time of writing we now have two lovely donkeys in our paddock once more.

Donkeys Elizabeth (left) and Beau (right)

Donkeys Elizabeth (left) and Beau (right)

Up in our wood we have our own Pets’ Cemetery. All our animals are buried there, each with a marker denoting their name. In this way we still have them with us in our fond memories.
My brother, Lance’s ashes also have a special grave there. Jean and I have expressed our wishes to have this peaceful setting as our last resting place. In that way we shall never leave Black Hill.
In the meantime life goes on at Black Hill. I would not swap it for anywhere else. I have noticed in recent years the increase in the number of ‘ex-Midlanders’ who have moved into nearby towns and villages. I guess their reasons are much the same as mine.
I do not like towns. I found as escape route all those years ago and nothing would tempt me to return. All I ask is that I may continue to live on Black Hill for the rest of my days and then forever afterwards.