Helen Peters: Growing up on a farm

Helen Peters: Growing up on a farm


This month we’re delighted to be welcoming Helen Peters to our list with the adorable New Arrivals at Willow Farm!  To celebrate, Helen joins us on the blog today to share some of her stories from growing up on her own family farm …

I feel incredibly lucky to have grown up on a farm, not least because my farm background has inspired so much of my writing. People often imagine that a childhood on a farm is idyllic, and in many ways mine was. But farms are also incredibly dramatic places. Fields get flooded and barns get burned down. Trees are uprooted in storms and fall across power lines. Animals have difficult births, and reject their babies. They form unlikely friendships, learn surprising skills, and do hilarious things. They also escape, get stuck, fall sick, suffer injuries, and are killed by foxes. There is always something happening on a farm, and much of the time it’s a matter of life and death.

Baby lambs on the farm

There have always been stand-out characters among the animals on our farm. There was my bottle-fed lamb, Baba, for example. Like all bottle-fed lambs, she remained tame for life, and became the rebel of the flock, finding the tiniest gap in a fence and leading the rest of the sheep to freedom. I can’t count the number of Sunday lunches that were interrupted by a phone call from someone in the village saying the sheep had got out again.

Then there was my dad’s peacock, Percy, who liked to scratch shiny blue cars, presumably because he saw them as rival peacocks. The bank manager’s car was a victim of one of Percy’s attacks. When he complained, Dad told him it was his fault for coming to the farm in a shiny car. We also had a rescue sheepdog who hated men, and a gander who was so grief-stricken when his mate died that he stood beside her dead body for three days, hissing and flapping his wings when anyone came near. We had a dairy cow who, when she was taken away from her calf, escaped and walked two miles along a route she’d only ever travelled in a closed lorry, to be reunited with her baby. Animals are amazing.

On the farm

Because my dad loved all animals, and because we had plenty of space, we were allowed pretty much any pet we wanted, as long as it didn’t cost too much. As well as the lambs, we had cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and fish, and as we grew bigger, the pets got bigger too. When my brother was ten, Dad bought him a pair of goats that he named Milly and Molly, and he and my mum started an enterprise that culminated with them selling goats’ milk, cheese and yoghurt in the local farm shop. My sister became a vet’s nurse, and brought back all sorts of waifs and strays, from chinchillas to budgies, gerbils to tortoises, as well as rescuing all sorts of wild animals, including sparrow chicks, barn owls and hedgehogs.

Many of these animals have made it into my stories. But sometimes fact follows fiction. In New Arrivals at Willow Farm, Cowslip the calf learns to open the gate of her field so that she can visit her goat friend in the farmyard. Only last week, my sister discovered that her horse had learned to open the gate of his field and was now taking himself for walks around the farm on a regular basis.

Playing on toy tractors

My family never went on holiday (how could we, with all those animals to look after?), but we didn’t need to, because we were lucky enough to have acres of fields, ponds, streams and woods to play in, as well as a farmyard full of exciting buildings. When we were little, we rode around the yard on toy tractors and played at being farm workers. Later on, we spent our days building dens, damming streams, and making rafts that invariably sank. One of our favourite activities was searching the outskirts of the farmyard for abandoned sheds, and turning them into secret clubs. Among many others, we had a Spy Club, a Fashion Club, and a Nature Club, all of which involved passwords, badges, codes, and notebooks in which we recorded our secret activities.

As we grew older, the clubs became more ambitious, culminating in a theatre complete with stage, dressing room and auditorium, where we staged plays we had written, complete with scenery we’d made from whatever was lying around the farm. We had enormous fun scouring the yard for things we could turn into scenery, and occasionally we’d have an amazing find. A sash window frame was used in a lot of our sets, as well as an old blanket box riddled with woodworm, and a chest of drawers we found in a cowstall, covered with swallow droppings.

The farm

When I became a teenager, I developed yearnings for a world beyond the farm. I wanted to go to university, live in a city, and travel to other countries. But barely a month has passed when I haven’t returned to Sussex. I get to cuddle my sister’s lambs in spring, and ride on my brother’s combine harvester in summer. I pick sloes and blackberries in autumn, and take winter walks through the magical frosty landscape. My children have experienced the joy of collecting eggs, feeding pigs, bottle-feeding lambs and bumping over the fields in the box on the back of Grandad’s tractor. And the farm and all its drama continue to inspire my stories.


New Arrivals New Arrivals at Willow Farmat Willow Farm is available now! Find out more.

There are two cute new arrivals down on Willow Farm, but they’re both having a difficult start. Snowy the Sheepdog seems to be better at making friends with the sheep than herding them. He’ll be sent away unless he can earn his place. Poor Cowslip the calf is missing her mum. None of the other animals seem to want to make friends until a strange-looking new creature arrives who’s just as lonely as Cowslip. Follow the adventures of Snowy and Cowslip as they find their feet on the farm.