Creature Comforts and Wild Joys.

Who doesn’t love a British autumn? Even this one, more locked in and lonelier than most, has so much to offer: it’s aflame and awash with colour again, a constant reminder that even on those days we want to stop the world and get off, the seasons come and go regardless.

This morning, just before the school run, a lanky dog fox wandered through our garden, as close to the house as the boot scrapers, taking advantage of the camouflage of overgrown flowerbeds we’ve yet to dig over. Scarred, rusted and wet, he was no greetings card of anthropomorphised red foxy charm, but timeless and defiant amid our accidental rewilding. Big as a spaniel, he turned to watch us watching him through the window. I hurried for my phone to photograph our visitor, but by the time I’d tripped over the greyhounds – still upside down on their beds, legs akimbo, luxuriating in the full-bellied warmth of human companionship – he was already slipping away, camouflaged amidst the remains of a border of dry goldenrod.

His visit has cheered me up enormously, one of those shared magical encounters a family rarely forgets, albeit unremarkable compared to the global historical shifts that headline each news week, especially right now. Such small personal moments punctuate our bigger collective memories: do you remember that dog fox visiting the garden? Wasn’t it the year of the pandemic, when Biden had just won the US Election?

Last year, when a procession of muntjac trotted brazenly past the French windows, my mother – gravely ill with bone cancer but determinedly holding court downstairs with visiting friends – regaled us with the story of how they’d been introduced to England by the Duke of Bedford in the early 1900s, soon escaping Woburn to rampage through crops and herbaceous borders all over the UK. She died just a few days later. As all those who have lost loved ones know, grieving starts with death and works backwards, sometimes terribly slowly. This small, positive and personal moment so close to her death has stayed with me. She was thrilled to share a fact none of us knew, and it’s now something I always recall when I see the little Chinese deer that regularly rootle around outside, just as I remember the male pheasant and peacock double-act who ‘adopted’ my parents’ garden when I was a girl, a bromance we all delighted in, also the badgers who partied on our lawn all night in Worcestershire despite Sam manfully marking his territory, the feral cats who serenaded me when I wrote in my ‘shed’ in Somerset, and the old hare that crosses the driveway outside my study window here when I write until dawn. Nature’s tapestry is always out there to run our hands along for comfort, a map that helps us navigate tough times.

Which brings me to books – the reason I write this blog – and the part that nature plays in my big bouncy ones, that reliable four-by-four seasonality I plunder like so many writers, sharing joy in our rural landscape, its wildlife and its guardians. To me, the British countryside is inevitably a central character in its own right, whether the rest of my cast escapes to it, as they often did in my early books, or are a permanent part of it as they are in the Comptons series.

Right now, I’m busy writing a novel that starts with spring bursting from deep winter, which feels very upside down, but is a lovely reminder that all too soon we’ll be there again: buds creaking open, days lengthening and sun strengthening. This third Comptons book has been rather delayed which is why it’s still a work in progress, but thankfully writing throughout winter is my mainstay so I’ll be nose to the grindstone from here on in to get it finished, albeit occasionally looking up in the hope I catch sight of a wild visitor or two.

12 thoughts on “Creature Comforts and Wild Joys.

  1. Janet Baker says:

    I reread all of your novels during the first lockdown. Now looking forward to your next. Thanks for helping to keep me sane! Kind regards, Janet

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  2. Holly Leslie says:

    So excited to hear there’s a third. The Comptons is my most favourite of your series as it is heavier on the country than the romance. No one else brings me as much comforting dog and horse-filled escapism! There is an necessary and significant place for things-books- that make one feel better about the world.

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  3. Alex Hunter says:

    Lovely read Fiona. I am really looking forward to the next in the series.

    I’m probably not your ‘typical’ reader, being a horror-loving bloke, but I find your novels hysterically funny and really enjoy the scrapes (romantic and otherwise) that your characters find themselves in.

    Enjoy your working winter!

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  4. Joanna Becker says:

    Thanks for your wonderful books- you and Jilly Cooper have kept me sane during the tough Melbourne lockdown. I look out over my rather damp paddocks at my ponies and pat my (somewhat smelly) dogs and imagine you doing the same thing on the other side of the world and suddenly I can get though the week. Although the wildlife here is more like tall grey elegant kangaroos stealing in with the evening mists to grab some tender Spring grass and nose around for any hay that the ponies might have dropped. (Very unlikely as they are greedy little Welshies so they don’t waste much) The other wildlife is often cream and brown kookaburras chortling to begin the day (not much fun at 5am) and when they spot a snake and then the stumpy blue tongued lizards with their 50 shades of brown scaly skin and funny bow legged walk. Please please do keep on writing- you have such a wonderful effect on my mental health and have kept me going through a most difficult time. You should be prescribed instead of anti depressants – you are much healthier long term!!
    I saw a sticker on a 4 wheel drive pulling a horse trailer recently which made me laugh and think of you “Dressage riders do laterally anything!” 🙂 Stay safe and strong during your lockdown and know that your loyal readers are thinking of you and your family during this difficult time. English citizens are brave and bold and you will get through this 🙂

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    • Fiona Walker says:

      Oh, I do so love your descriptions of the Melbourne spring wildlife – so different from our Enid Blytonesque rustles and tail twitches!. (Although we both have greedy Welshies who are just the same whatever their hemisphere!). Thank you so much for such kind words, and I’m incredibly pleased to have been one of the distractions that saw you through lockdown. Reading has been hugely important to me this year too – those little pockets of happiness and distraction we can return to or discover anew. Better than any pill, I agree.

      And I am oh-so tempted to steal that bumper sticker quote for the latest book…

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      • Joanna Becker says:

        Oh please do- I’m sure it not copyrighted – it is only a bumper sticker quote after all 🙂 Then I can buy your new book and tell everyone that I helped to inspire something in it 🙂 First time I will have inspired anyone!!

        I am so sorry to hear about your mother – my Mum has dementia so we are losing her by degrees day by day. It is just awful to watch someone’s spirit sliding away – we are so much kinder to dogs and horses when the time comes to do the right thing.

        Oh the Australian wildlife is definitely NOT Enid Blyton territory!! Much of it is horribly venomous and we have to be vigilant of dogs and even horses- the snakes can kill a horse with just one bite. Especially in Spring when they are full of venom after hibernating all winter 😦 If we hear a rustle then we grab all animals in the vicinity and hang on tight .In the bush if you hear a rustle then you nearly need a change of underwear and outdoor peeing is a hazardous occupation!!

        Hope all your animals are keeping well and your family too and that your writing is going well – maybe you can work some Covid related stuff into your next book! We had an extraordinary run on toilet paper in the Lockdown period. People were going mad stocking up on like 20 packets at a time. I think some of them confused Covid for cholera or dysentery!

        We couldn’t work horses as we were not allowed off our farms and there are no shows or competitions to go to 😦 We could go out and get hay and horse feed and thank God the farrier could still come as they were counted as necessary animal carers. But I was reduced to driving by a local lady who has Welshies and looking wistfully at her ponies over the fence and shouting to her though our masks – just to have a horsey chat to someone. That and googling photos of past shows and trying to hang onto the thought that this will pass and we WILL get our beloved ponies out again to compete.

        Good luck- hope England is through the lockdown soon and you get double donut days soon – zero cases and zero deaths . Keep calm and Pony on!

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