Freya North - my life in Essendon
PUBLISHED: 18:13 30 August 2012 | UPDATED: 21:48 20 February 2013
As Freya North and her two children embrace village life, the author tells us why her Hertfordshire life is so idyllic
THEY say you never know what life will throw at you or where the winds of change will take you but if youd told me three years ago that Id be living on a small farm in Hertfordshire, acting in the village panto, perfecting the best plum jam this side of the Watford Gap and that Id make stacking logs an art form, Id have laughed out loud. But here I am, proud to have put a jaunty tick next to each of those skills.
Though born and bred a Londoner, my heart had always been in the country, however it was something of a halcyon dream that I could make it a reality seemed a little farfetched and almost beyond my capability. But huge upheavals on the home front splitting from my partner and my mother fighting and beating cancer made me reassess what I wanted, when I wanted it and how Id get there. As it turned out, I got there up the B158 actually.
My children Felix, 11, Georgia, nine, and I now live very rurally we have our own land and woods, no mains fuel, sewage or broadband. Initially, when we first moved, we simply hunkered down in our little verdant patch of paradise, acclimatizing. We learnt that the strange hoarse barking was muntjac, that a red kite makes a daily visit just before tea time, that we have yellow archangel and white wood anemones and two buzzard nests.
Before we moved here, my children hadnt ever seen a proper night sky thered been too many buildings in the way, too much light pollution. They gasped when they did. In London, theyd never had the opportunity to romp and roam and initially couldnt quite believe they were allowed to do so here in their new home, out of sight and earshot of their Mum. Now they go out dry and come back mucky only when theyre hungry and thats very ok for everyone. We quickly discovered we needed two welly racks, not one.
Soon enough, we were venturing further afield, discovering the delights of our new stamping ground. We feel very lucky to live equidistant between the pretty villages of Essendon and Little Berkhamsted and weve been welcomed into both folds. When Little Bs Sandie Ash roped me in to her legendary panto, I assumed Id help distribute leaflets or hide in the audience to heckle Hes behind you. Little did I think Id be a he, up there on stage in a peculiar costume and larky stage paint my first panto, and I was Aladdin! Mind you, next time round, I was the Virgin and Felix was a slave girl. I await with some trepidation to see what Sandie has in mind for us this year.
Over and above learning lines and rehearsing in midwinter, often in hats and coats, was the sense of community and achievement, the camaraderie and banter - and raising funds for local causes. It was the same with the village fete. The baking frenzy, the vats of jam bubbling, the sack loads of elderflower heads for gallons of cordial, it was all well worth the sticky mess and round-the-clock decanting. One never goes hungry in my corner of Hertfordshire whether its the wickedly good jam doughnuts from Simmons or the incomparable Welsh Rarebit at the Candlestick pub, the fruit and veg stall at the Dutch Nursery, the farm shop at Foxholes or fresh eggs from my neighbours.
Our townie pals wonder what we do for culture as if, outside London, its all about growing runner beans and gathering kindling. Well, weve been to wonderful events at Hertford Theatre, the childrens school contributed to an exhibition at Hertford Museum and weve stood upright in the enormous fireplace at Hatfield House. Im thrilled to be involved in this years inaugural Hertford Childrens Book Festival.
But actually, Im most proud that my children call to me: Mum! Goldfinch!, that they help organise our potty annual Wassail in our little orchard which we planted when we arrived, that they know hornbeam burns very hot and very slowly and that traditionally it was coppiced to provide charcoal for the malting kilns. Felix is as happy fishing at Bayford lakes as he is playing tennis at the Gosling. Top of Georgias birthday list was a flight from Panshanger and her highlight of last summer was winning the dog show at the Little B summer fete.
An authors life can be an isolated one for the most part, spent in the company of people who dont actually exist, however real the characters might seem! Funnily enough, I have more contact with people now I live in a less populated area, than I did in the bustle and hurry of the city where people rarely catch each others eyes, let alone stop and chat. Be it the superb community at the childrens school or the friendly natter at Emmie Murphys Village Store, my evening pottery class at Courtyard Arts or bumping into fellow dog-walkers out in Essendon woods or along the Cole Green Way, I was welcomed from the start and love being in the countys friendly embrace.
My writing has greatly benefited from my move to the county, with inspiration coming at me from all directions. My last book, Chances, was set here, as is my new novel, Rumours. The Hertfordshire landscape and the villages are so much more than a colourful backdrop theyve become characters in their own right in my work. And as for the people? Well, I do have a plaque in my office which reads Careful or you might end up in my novel!
When I was planning our move, I justified it with were just a stones throw from London as if Hertfordshire was a gorgeous back garden but somehow within the capitals curtilage; a picturesque add-on, if you like. However, the county has so much to offer us that we rarely leave it. For us, Herts is where the home is. And we love it.
Rumours by Freya North is published by HarperFiction, priced 7.99. Come and meet Freya at Davids Bookshop, 7pm on June 19 as part of Letchworth Festival. Tickets at www.letchworthfestival.org