Tag Archives: Victoria Holmes

The Beautiful South

Sunrise/sunset: 08:25/16:37 Daylength: 8hr12min

It seems like ages ago already, but last Sunday I took off from Bardufoss Airport and flew (via Oslo) to London Heathrow. Quite a change of scenery!

It’s been one of those magical weeks. One of the hardest things about living in Arctic Norway (apart from the weather) is that it’s a long way from the UK and family. It’s only a couple of flights, obviously, but there’s a limit to how many times I can manage it each year. So it was a big deal to visit Anna, partly for her graduation, but also because things are moving along in her life and I wanted to catch up in a way that just isn’t possible in a phone call.

In addition, when I visited Anna earlier in the year, my co-author for the Hope Meadows series, Vicky Holmes, had pointed out that Winchester was within relatively easy driving distance from where she lives. That time I hadn’t hired a car, so this time I had rectified that.

I confess I was slightly nervous about driving. The roads around Heathrow couldn’t be much more different from the roads around Bardufoss. The national speed limit in Norway is 50mph and there are no motorways within easy driving distance. I’m generally more worried about ice on the road than about what the other vehicles around me are doing. On top of that, driving on the other side of the road is always challenging, and so I had booked an automatic. Not having to reach for the gearstick (and banging your hand into the door) was one less thing to think about. I had declined the offer of paying an extra £50 for GPS. I feel that GPS in a hire car should come as standard in this day and age, but I was wondering whether it was a decision I would come to regret.

So when I arrived I was pleased to find they were offering to upgrade me to a car with GPS. Better still, they had moved me up a class, so the car I drove out of Heathrow was a nice little Mercedes A200. I guess some of the local drivers must have been mystified at the sight of me driving a neat sports car at 60 mph as I navigated from the M4 to the M3 via a short section of the M25, but I arrived safely at my hotel about an hour and a half later, feeling both relieved and proud.

Having endured the slowest check-in ever (computerised systems are great until they’re not) I went round to collect Anna and her lovely girlfriend Lauren. It’s odd, being on the other end of that “meeting the parents” situation. It didn’t cross my mind until I was on the way, that Lauren might actually be nervous about meeting me, but if she was, I hope the worry was swiftly put aside. We had sharing plates at Weatherspoon’s, which was a lovely, relaxed way to begin our few days together.

Anna’s graduation was on Tuesday, so we had arranged to go to Stonehenge on Monday morning, then we were to meet up with Vicky for afternoon tea later in the day. I hadn’t been sure that Stonehenge would be the most interesting place for Lauren to visit (I know Anna loves ancient monuments as much as I do) but I needn’t have worried. Lauren was soon reading up on the history and telling us fascinating information as we walked round. Stonehenge in the modern age is frequented by people keen to experience the summer solstice, but I was intrigued (and quietly pleased) to find out that, in ancient times, the winter solstice was actually more important. There used to be huge gatherings there, with people coming from as far afield as Scotland with their animals each year. What a tradition that must have been!

The stones themselves were fascinating, not least because they were occupied by a flock of starlings, who called loudly throughout the time we were there, except for on a couple of odd moments when something disturbed them. When that happened, the entire flock (along with a few ravens) took off with an intense rush of wings. They performed a few acrobatic manoeuvres in the sky, then flew back in and the chittering and chirping would start again.

A rush of wings: starlings and ravens take flight over Stonehenge

It was amazing to meet Vicky after all these years. Vicky and I wrote six books together, starting in 2016. We were meant to meet in Oslo years ago, but just before the trip, Vicky was diagnosed with cancer. Since then we have been through a pandemic and it had begun to seem likely we would never meet.

It turned into the most perfect afternoon. Vicky had found a lovely hotel in a village not too far from Stonehenge and we were soon deep in scones with cream and lively conversation.

As well as Hope Meadows, I knew that Vicky had been the driving force behind the Warrior Cats/Erin Hunter series. What hadn’t crossed my mind was that she had also been the creator of other, very popular, children’s’ books, but she looked at Lauren, who is studying creative writing, and diagnosed that Lauren might be of an age to have read Daisy Meadows’ Rainbow Magic series. It turned out that these were some of Lauren’s favourite books as a child and she confessed on the return journey that she had recently put some of her favourites into a box, in case she has children. So not only did I meet a friend I’ve been chatting to for six years without meeting, quite unexpectedly, Lauren also met one of her favourite authors. Here is Vicky, smiling that wonderful smile as she peeps out from behind the two enormous stands of afternoon tea!

Vicky Holmes and the Afternoon Tea!

Tuesday was the day of Anna’s graduation – another wonderful occasion. It was heartwarming to see her looking so happy. Her years at university couldn’t have been much more overshadowed, with the pandemic dictating that she spent most of her second year with us in Norway. It was lovely to see her with her university friends, and with Lauren. Charlie came too and it ended up being another perfect day.

Anna and Lauren outside Winchester Cathedral

The hardest thing, as ever, was leaving. Anna won’t be coming home for Christmas as she is working, so it could be quite a while until we meet again. It was also a tug leaving Winchester. It really is the most wonderful example of a small, cosy, English city. They were setting up the huts for a Christmas market near the cathedral and of course, I want to visit that now! Maybe sometime in the future, I will be able to walk among the weathered sarsens of Stonehenge on the winter solstice and visit the stalls in Winchester on Christmas eve, but all that will probably have to wait a few years. For now, I am back in Norway, listening to the rain on the metal roof of my house, with Triar snuggling beside me, and that will have to do.

Snuggly Triar

Summer at Hope Meadows

Summer at Hope Meadows, Lucy Daniels

It feels strange to finally be able to talk about Hope Meadows. Because it will be published under a pseudonym, I was unsure at first whether I would be allowed to mention my involvement. Right now the first book is undergoing its final edit. I am gearing up to the idea that I might be writing features, giving interviews or even attending book festivals. I have also just received the wonderful storyline for the second book in the series, so I am about to be very busy.

But I should start at the beginning, with the e-mail that Peter Buckman sent.

The e-mail was from Victoria Holmes at Working Partners. She explained that the first major success Working Partners had, was a series of children’s books called Animal Ark. This gorgeous series (she said) featured twelve-year-old Mandy Hope, the daughter of vets Adam and Emily who ran the eponymous Animal Ark surgery in the idyllic Yorkshire village of Welford, and her best friend eleven-year-old James Hunter. Together they had rescued animals from every imaginable peril, making friends young and old, two- and four-legged.

Personally, I had not come across Animal Ark. The first in the series was published back in 1994 and by that time, I was working in a large animal practice in Scotland, which left almost no spare time for reading.

Animal Ark proved to be very popular, selling millions of copies, round the world. As the series was now reaching its 25th anniversary, Victoria explained, as well as relaunching the original books, Hodder had commissioned a brand new series, featuring Mandy Hope as a newly qualified vet, returning to Welford to help run Animal Ark and open an animal rescue centre.

They were, looking for authors to submit sample chapters. Several would be asked to send their version, and the one they felt was most suitable would be selected to write the rest of the book. The remit was to write the first two chapters of Mandy’s story. Working Partners (in the shape of Victoria herself) would provide an outline of the plot and whatever guidance I needed. It was my job to fill out the storyline.

From the off, Victoria and I proved to be on the same wavelength and the project itself was fascinating. Not only did it give me a chance to share my veterinary experiences, it was both a challenge and an unexpected pleasure to work with characters who had so much background.

As well as the plot, I was provided with information about the characters, both new (for Hope Meadows) and old. I was also sent two original Animal Ark manuscripts. There was also the geography of Welford and the surrounding area to assimilate.

To give an example of the challenge, the outline for chapter one contained the instruction “Mandy’s childhood flashes before her, with memories sparked by every location of lovely Welford”  As someone who had never read Animal Ark, this could have been daunting, but I set to, trawling through the pages of Amazon, making use of their handy “Look Inside” feature. Having identified some likely memories, I asked Victoria for the manuscripts and at the same time, asked the librarian at the British International School of Stavanger, whether she might be able to obtain hard copies. One way or another, I pulled together some suitable history.

I am not sure whether all the writers who submitted were quite so demanding of Victoria’s time. It seemed like hundreds of messages were batted back and forth as we discussed technicalities about the new storyline, historical and geographical details and even exchanged some friendly information about ourselves. By the time I set down the last full stop on chapter two, I was addicted.

As I contemplated what I had produced, there was an incredible feeling. The urge to write more was excruciating. It was no longer just about getting a deal with an agent and publisher. The project itself had become a burning need. I had added touches that I felt were all mine, yet somehow they seemed integral. It was hard to imagine the idea that someone else’s version might be better. That in nine months time, I might have to buy and read those chapters again, in somebody else’s words.

I was a veterinary surgeon. That had to be an advantage. But I was also a novice writer. I’d had nothing published and the deadline for the completion of the first draft was only a couple of months away. Would they be willing to take on someone with so little experience? With a strange sensation of loss, that I might never, ever get to write any more, I sent off my two chapters on the thirtieth of August and held my breath.



Major Characters

For those who have read Animal Ark, the main characters in Summer at Hope Meadows will be old friends. I’d like to share a little bit of information about them, their interactions with one another, and how I have tried to tie up their past with their present situation.

First, Mandy Hope herself. For those who haven’t read Animal Ark, Mandy hope was last seen at the age of twelve. She is the adoptive daughter of veterinary surgeons Adam and Emily Hope. She and her best friend James had a wonderful childhood, roaming the beautiful Yorkshire countryside and looking after the animals they found.

For the new series, Mandy has reached the age of twenty seven. She has qualified as a veterinary surgeon herself. The story begins with Mandy returning to Welford, the village where she grew up, to help her parents in their practice.

I must say that I enjoyed writing about Mandy. She shares so many of my own traits that I found it easy to find her voice. I suspect the biggest difference is that she is more earnest than I am. In the children’s books, she comes across as quite a serious character. Those who know me well will know that I have a dry sense of humour, which sometimes tends towards the cynical. Mandy is more idealistic.

She is also self-aware, will fight for her own needs and stand up for herself when necessary. As someone who tends towards the passive, I found it empowering writing a character who was much more assertive than I was when I was in my mid-twenties.

Like me, she is very uninterested in clothes and make-up, which is just as well, because I am truly ignorant about both those things. In the original guidance Victoria sent, there were instructions and links about the aural haematoma operation Mandy had to carry out.

I joked to Victoria that while the other authors probably followed them assiduously, I had written that element off the top of my head. However, I did have to search online to find out what a shift-dress actually was.

In book two, Mandy recently had to apply mascara. I had to suppress the urge to write about all the clumps in her eyelashes as I personally, have never managed to apply mascara without them appearing. If anyone knows the secret behind this important life-skill, please feel free to drop me a line.

Adam Hope is Mandy’s dad. In the children’s books, they have a warm, but teasing relationship. Mandy is sometimes to be seen out on her bike, whipping him into shape (not literally you understand) as he takes to the lanes around Welford to run.

I found his character and the relationship between Mandy and Adam quite straightforward to understand. It is based on both mutual respect and teasing. Adam’s eyes are always twinkling. Even though his hair has more grey now, he still teases Mandy. But now, Mandy sometimes gets her own back for all the years of ribbing.

The relationship between Emily Hope, Mandy’s mum, and Mandy is more subtle and at first I found it difficult to get a handle on Emily’s character. I am sure, when I started to write, she was coming across as insipid. This was cured when I spent a day in the library at the British International School in Stavanger. The librarian had already come up trumps by obtaining a copy of Sheepdog in the Snow for me. But it was one of the English teachers, Mrs Rhodes, who came and asked what I was doing, who finally helped me see Emily clearly.

Fortunately for me, Mrs Rhodes had read many of the Animal Ark books. I was amazed when she announced that her favourite character was Emily. She felt that Emily’s relationship with Mandy was wonderfully warm and based on an often unspoken trust.

When I read the books again, I began to notice this important trait. Mandy grew up with a mum who trusted her judgement enough to give her a great deal of freedom to make her own choices. That faith has allowed Mandy to grow up with a quiet self-confidence.

Finally, to James Hunter, who in the original series was Mandy’s best friend. I don’t want to give too much away, but the opening chapter in Summer at Hope Meadows is a big one for James.

When they were younger, James was a steadying influence on Mandy. Now, although they are physically further apart, they still look out for each other. There is a real sense that when both their lives enter periods of chaos, they view one another so clearly that they instinctively see what is best for each other: indeed more clearly than they can see their own path.

The most interesting thing for me, has been writing about characters with so much back history, which has to guide how they will react now. I know that when I get time to go back to my own stories, I will take much more time to write down events from their past. Mandy, James, Emily and Adam are now so clear in my head that they almost write themselves. And that is a very pleasurable way to write.

Thanks to Jan-Arne Hagen and Steinar Sirevåg for the photos.