Poul­try Peo­ple

Stephanie Dagg has had 30 books pub­lished, the ma­jor­ity trans­lated into four lan­guages. The France-based au­thor tells Jeremy Hob­son about her ca­reer and why she thinks poul­try are un­der-rep­re­sented in lit­er­a­ture

Your Chickens - - Contents - Au­thor Stephanie Dagg

How did you first be­come in­ter­ested in chicken keep­ing? Af­ter mov­ing to our new house in the wilds of County Cork in Ire­land 15 years ago, our farm­ing neigh­bours asked us to chicken-sit their small flock when they went on hol­i­day. A week of tend­ing these char­ac­ter­ful birds and en­joy­ing newly-laid eggs made us want our own. We had a big gar­den that was per­fect for a few free-rang­ing birds. The minute the neigh­bour had re­turned from hol­i­day, I ob­tained the ad­dress of her chicken sup­plier. The next day my youngest son and I, equipped with a card­board box, headed off into the even wilder wilds of County Cork to find the sup­plier. The lady in ques­tion led us out to a barn, opened the door and, in one swift move­ment, grabbed two of the oc­cu­pants by the legs. These in­dig­nant, up­side-down birds were now mine and I haven’t looked back since.

What breed were those early birds and what do you keep now? Those first two, called Lady Egg and Princess Layla, were brown hy­brids. They were ex­cel­lent egg lay­ers and half a dozen of Lady’s won the egg class at the Ban­don Show one year. The lo­cal breed here in Creuse in Nou­velle Aquitaine is the strik­ing grey Li­mousin, and I have had plenty of those. I’ve also had Sus­sex, Rhode Is­land Reds, Marans and Silkies. Cur­rently I have a small flock of home-bred hy­brids and six beau­ti­ful Brah­mas. This breed is with­out doubt my favourite. They are so good na­tured and I love their feath­ery trousers. I call them my doorstep chick­ens as that’s where they can usu­ally to be found.

What is it about poul­try — as you also have tur­keys, quail, ducks and a goose — that you love so much? They are such in­ter­est­ing, pos­i­tive and ac­tive crea­tures. They are in­tel­li­gent (well, maybe not the tur­keys), tol­er­ant, use­ful in so many ways and also beau­ti­ful. They bring a gar­den to life. I couldn’t be with­out them. I have quite an ar­ray of ex­otic birds, too.

Your lat­est novel, Hair­cuts, Hens and Homi­cide, has been de­scribed as be­ing “the per­fect warm, feel-good read, with plenty of hu­mour, may­hem, mys­tery and hens”. Is this your usual style? I started out as a chil­dren’s au­thor and my first two books were pub­lished 20 years ago. I’ve had an­other 30 pub­lished since then and they have been trans­lated into four lan­guages. I’ve writ­ten and self-pub­lished two ac­counts of my ex­pe­ri­ences as an ex­pat in France (where I moved in 2006) — Heads Above Wa­ter and To­tal Im­mer­sion — that give a spat­tered-by-mud view of France rather than a rose-tinted one. My poul­try get plenty of men­tions in those books.

I also write light-hearted fic­tion, of which my lat­est is one ex­am­ple. It’s a cosy mys­tery, a genre I re­ally en­joy. And since I’m also a llama farmer, lla­mas fea­ture in my other books. In my opin­ion, hens and lla­mas are un­der rep­re­sented in lit­er­a­ture, so I am try­ing to do some­thing about it.

My lat­est book in­cludes a flock of wan­der­ing Vor­weks, a breed I have al­ways ad­mired but never owned, and a flock of four that the book’s hero­ine, Me­gan, in­her­its from her gran. Edith, one of the four, is en­tirely based on Cyn­thia, a sturdy Sus­sex I had for six years. She was a bossy old bird, full of char­ac­ter. It was a sad day when she died.

How do you man­age to com­bine your writ­ing ca­reer, lla­mas, chicken-keep­ing, run­ning a 75-acre farm and a carp fish­ery? Life is cer­tainly busy, but in­ter­est­ing, and if ever things start to pile up then I take my lead from the hens: I keep my pecker up and tackle them one at a time with chicken-like de­ter­mi­na­tion.

To find out more about Stephanie, her chick­ens and life in France, see her blog: www.blogin­france.com/about.

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