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Wessex Diaries, Sketches from Life in Hardy Country

Thursday 13 October 2011, 11:16
By John Vallins

John Vallins, holding a copy of his new hardback bookIn 1992, when I retired and came back to Somerset, I was lucky enough to be asked to contribute to the Guardian's "Country Diary" column, which has a history stretching back 104 years and is thought to be the oldest daily column still running in a national newspaper. Under the editorship of Alan Rusbridger, the Diary has a place of honour on the Leader Page. I have written a fortnightly piece for almost 20 years, the topics arising from conversations, sights, and happenings in this region…mostly the Blackmore Vale area but sometimes further afield - Wiltshire or Cornwall. A good many have arisen from the life of Horsington and the Cheritons, or Bruton, where we used to live. Subjects include the pig-handling parson, a pigeon called Jeremy, cider-making and coppicing, scythes and dewponds, as well as the behaviour of a local flock of Greyface Dartmoor sheep and other local inhabitants.

James Crowden, with his imprint Flagon Press, is dedicated to the belief that 'each book is an individual work of art that should arise organically and be crafted, not mass produced. Books are to be savoured and enjoyed like an artisan Calvados or Cider Brandy'. I was delighted when he indicated that he would like to publish a selection of my pieces. We met with the designer, Andrew Crane, originally from Whitelackington, and the illustrator, Tim Millar, from Castle Cary, who is a fine sculptor in glass as well as an artist working in ink with a Japanese brush pen. We quickly arrived at a shared view of what we wanted to achieve, and from that meeting the book took shape, being printed by Butler, Tanner and Dennis, at Frome.

Alan Rusbridger has generously spared time from the great concerns of a national broadsheet newspaper to write a foreword which tells something of the Country Diary's pedigree and of the time, 'half a lifetime ago', when I was his English teacher at Cranleigh School in Surrey. That was my second job, after nine years at King's School, Bruton, and it was an interview for the Bruton job that first brought me to Somerset on a train from Paddington.

Wessex Diaries is in hardback, with 144 pages and 40 illustrations. It can be obtained (£16.95) from bookshops or from James Crowden Publishing (01460 30795 or (signed with dedication as requested) directly from John Vallins at Creamery Cottage, Horsington, Templecombe. Somerset BA8 0EB, .

There will be a launch and signing at Bailey Hill Bookshop, Castle Cary, on Saturday 15 October from 10.00 am to 1.00pm (Cider and Keen's Cheddar Cheese) to which everyone is very welcome to attend.

"There have been some great Guardian country diarists in the history of the much-loved and read column. John Vallins is up there with the best of them." Alan Rusbridger - Editor of the Guardian

"John Vallins has a gift like that of the poet and writer Ronald Blythe for finding history and beauty, and continuing serenity, in genuine accounts of the country landscape and traditions of Wessex." Eve Keatley - Sherborne

"John Vallins's prose is wonderfully terse and evocative." Richard Watkins - Barrington


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