Jeremy Hobson talks to smallholder, chicken keeper and thriller writer Shaun Baines
A thriller writer talks about his chickens
What first got you interested in chickens – and did it coincide with your move to rural Scotland? Country living and chickens go hand in hand. We actually started with keeping bees, which we still do, but they are considerably less cuddly than chickens.
What breeds of chickens do you have? We began with Welsummers, which are beautiful, if flighty birds. We then bought Barnevelders, who are calmer and more self-assured. Each gang have their own cockerel named after characters in Blackadder: ‘Speckled Jim’ runs the Welsummers, ‘Lord Flashheart’ heads the Barnevelders. We keep them separate, otherwise it’s like watching the Jets and the Sharks in a feathery dance-off.
Your soon-to-be published book is a ‘crime thriller’… what is it about the genre that excites you? My first book is due to be published by Thistle Publishing in June, though my short stories are available in anthologies. It’s based in my native North East and I wanted to write a story about the streets I grew up on. I’m naturally drawn to the darker side of human nature, which alarms my mother no end. The thriller genre lets me explore this without having to break the law. It’s as exciting to write as it is to read as I never know which crime is about to be committed next. I’m currently writing the sequel and could be convinced to include a chicken or two.
Do any of your current flock of chickens possess any similar characteristics to the type of people you write about in your book?! I predominantly write about the tension between criminal gangs, so with two different tribes of chickens, there is a correlation. Most of my characters are conflicted in some way, but there is nothing conflicted about a chicken. They know exactly what they want, which is food and then more food. But the major difference is I’m more likely to hug a chicken than a gangster. Not after the last time, anyway. Do your chickens help you focus on your writing in any way? I love watching them take a dust bath. It’s a joyful sight. After a long day writing about nefarious deeds, it’s the perfect way to relax and it takes all my self-control not to join them.
Bearing in mind where you live, have you any special tips about hen keeping in a cold climate? We don’t let their drinking water freeze over. If they can’t drink, they won’t eat and that’s what keeps them warm in the cold weather. They have plenty of lettuce and fruit to keep them hydrated and we also keep an eye on their combs and wattles for signs of frostbite. It once got down to -13C so the cold can be a danger – for the chickens and me.
Is there anything connected with chicken-keeping that you know now – and wish you’d known at the outset? Never leave your kitchen door open. Chickens love to explore and think nothing of making a perch of your appliances. Like me, you may have to get rid of a toaster after a chicken puts more than bread in it!
MORE: Follow Shaun on Twitter @Littlehavenfarm
Thriller writer Shaun Baines