On Writing

Fri, 28/04/2023 - 17:26pm

David and I have never seen ourselves as authors. We still don’t. Yet it’s becoming increasingly clear how powerful books are in changing minds and influencing policy. We all relate much more to an individual story than to stark statistics and I’m enjoying the opportunities and reactions that telling our story has brought.

There is no doubt that by writing and self publishing A Dairy Story we have met people, and been invited to events, that have given us a fresh perspective.  Last week we were at the London Book Fair at Olympia in London, finalists in ‘The Selfies’ – an award scheme for books that have been self published. We’ve attended food fairs at Olympia many times over the years, but the London Book Fair was HUGE in comparison.  In fact, I didn’t realise just how big Olympia is until we had to navigate it. 

It was at The Selfies awards event that we learnt the most. No, we didn’t win - many congratulations to Sarah Ziegel for her memoir ‘Marching to a Different Beat: A family's journey with autism’, who did. But we spoke with many of the shortlisted authors and learned so much, including that some of the finalists were experienced, traditionally published authors, having contracts previously with publishers before deciding to self publish. I had always thought it would be the other way round.

We chose the self publishing route for speed, we wanted to get our story written and published as fast as possible, but I guess I’d thought that some people self publish a first book with the goal of landing a contract at a later date with a publisher. I found it interesting that some want the freedom and financial control that comes from doing it yourself. In some ways, it’s not all that different from the independent food sector.

We are being encouraged to produce an audio version of the book, so we talked to several companies who specialise in this. The big question is whether we read it ourselves or get narrators to do that for us. Doing it ourselves would certainly be authentic, but that has to be weighed up against the speed and professionalism of experienced readers doing it. For now, we remain undecided, but we are giving it much thought.

Our trip to London was very much a flying visit – there and back on the same day, with a very early start and late return, but we did manage to squeeze in a very interesting visit to an exhibition while we were there. Immediately opposite Euston train station is the Wellcome Collection, and they’re holding an exhibition called ‘Milk’ from now till September. The very same day, David was approached by a freelance journalist who is writing an article on the exhibition. Happenstance! The exhibition explores society’s relationship with milk and its place in politics, society and culture, and we found it very interesting. We also got chatting with one of the guides, and we left the exhibition with an order for a box of A Dairy Story. It’s another example of how having our story in book form can open so many doors.

We are also learning about the importance of literary festivals.  We launched A Dairy Story last September at Scotland’s National Book Town’s annual festival in Wigtown, just half an hour away from us. In two week’s time we go considerably further to the Farm and Food Literature Festival in the Cotswolds. We are combining this trip with David speaking in London at the Extinction or Regeneration Conference, collaboratively organised by Compassion in World Farming and several other influential charities and organisations.

Those of you who have read the book will know that I’m getting treatment for cancer. Eighteen months on I’m still getting chemotherapy and immunotherapy every three weeks, though now I’m part of a trial being run in Edinburgh. The logistics of trying to lead a ‘normal’ life, taking advantage of the opportunities A Dairy Story is creating, and getting treatment in a hospital three hours away can cause quite a few complications. For the Extinction or Regeneration event I start the day getting the train to Edinburgh for treatment, then get a train to King’s Cross that evening.  In the meantime David will have travelled separately so that he can attend the pre-conference dinner. 

Having said that the experience of sharing our story is hugely positive, and we are ever thankful to everyone who helped to make this book a reality. We are still working on the ‘how-to’ handbook that we promised to turn into an e-book, and David keeps teasing me with the idea that we write a follow-up. He wants to tell the stories that we felt were too risky to be told - let’s just say that over the years a few rules have been bent to the point of breaking, so no David, let’s leave some stories untold.

***And as I put the finishing touches to this blog, I find that Cream o’ Galloway, the sister company to The Ethical Dairy, has just been mentioned in another book. Ultra-Processed People by Dr Chris van Tulleken was published yesterday and I’ve just bought my copy.

It seems that ice cream is used as an example of how ultra-processing has moved food away from its traditional components, and the author mentions Cream o’ Galloway vanilla ice cream as an example of a more traditional approach. I’m looking forward to reading what seems like an important book. It is possible to turn back the dial on the industrialisation and intensification of our food and farming systems. Our story is one example of how this can be done, maybe if we continue to share stories about how change is possible, then perhaps we help to make change more likely. I remain optimistic.  

Wilma Finlay