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Just me and ewe: Journalist writes book about swapping day job for farm life in Northern Ireland

Holly releases witty memoirs about culture shock of swapping office job in England for lambing in Islandmagee with new hubby Paul

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Holly's new book takes a sideways look at her new life in the country

Holly's new book takes a sideways look at her new life in the country

Paul and Holly on their sheep farm in Islandmagee

Paul and Holly on their sheep farm in Islandmagee

Holly and Paul Crawford with Holly's new book

Holly and Paul Crawford with Holly's new book

Holly became a farmer (and vet's) wife when she moved to Co Antrim

Holly became a farmer (and vet's) wife when she moved to Co Antrim

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Holly's new book takes a sideways look at her new life in the country

Writer Holly Crawford swapped her desktop in England for a sheep farm in Islandmagee — and published a book about her adventures.

Stuck in the Middle with Ewe: Or How I Found my Flock and Lost my Heart in Northern Ireland details how the veterinary journalist became a cow milker, freelance writer and lamb foster mum.

Holly moved to Co Antrim to stay with then fiancé Paul, a vet and sheep farmer, shortly before the pandemic.

“We started planning our wedding for the May 2020, so what could possibly go wrong?” she laughs.

“It became clear that we weren’t going to be able to get married as we planned. But as soon as Boris Johnson said you could have small weddings, Paul was on the phone to the vicar and we got married in my home town.”

“We got married less than 12 weeks later, because we just wanted to get married. We had to scrap the posh hotel reception, we had to half the guest list.

“We had about 25 guests and we had our first dance in the church car park and cut our cake from the boot of Paul’s car. But it was memorable.”

The couple, who will celebrate their second wedding anniversary on July 18, met when Holly was reporting from a conference at which Paul was being honoured for his veterinary services.

Friends for a few years, they dated for a year before he proposed — at the same conference where they first met.

“Paul trained at the Royal Veterinary College in London and he did some high street practice work in Northern Ireland and has worked all over the place,” explains Holly (36).

“He was back living in Northern Ireland by the time I met him with his flock which he built up.”

She knew a move to Islandmagee was on the cards — “I didn’t have so much as a pot plant to water, whereas Paul had 200 sheep to look after” — and laughs when discussing her first visit to the family farm.

“Almost as soon as I get out of the car, Paul handed me a lamb. I said, ‘Is it so you make sure I like the lambs?’ and he said, ‘It’s to make sure my lambs like you.’ I passed the lamb test.”

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Paul and Holly on their sheep farm in Islandmagee

Paul and Holly on their sheep farm in Islandmagee

Paul and Holly on their sheep farm in Islandmagee

Growing up, Holly was a fan of veterinary surgeon and author James Herriot, whose books featured veterinary practice, animals and family life.

“Had I been good at maths and science, I would have liked to have been a vet or vet nurse,” says Holly.

“Working as a reporter for a veterinary magazine was the closest I was ever going to get. But I was very happy with that and the fact that I was now married to a vet means I’m technically (James’ wife in the books) Helen in my own story.

“For our honeymoon, which obviously was meant to be abroad, but didn’t happen, we went to the Lake District, and then we went to Yorkshire.

“I was very happy because we went to the world of James Herriot. I used to volunteer there when I worked as a reporter in Yorkshire. I took a picture of Paul outside the veterinary surgery with the plaque.”

Having lived on the farm with her woolly buddies during lockdown meant Holly was ready to return post-honeymoon — and get involved in land life.

“Writing about veterinary things from the comfort of an office is one thing, being sort of in the middle of sheep… because obviously I’m not a vet and I’m not a farmer, so I’m just trying to help out,” she explains.

“Paul taught me how to lamb, which was amazing.

“I didn’t think I could do that. He said farmers have to learn how to do it because they don’t call a vet out every time.

“We’ve still got him, number six, he’s the first one I delivered.

“Since being over here, I’ve gained more of an appreciation for agriculture and for the farming community because I now milk cows three mornings a week and Paul and I milk three evenings a week.”

Holly started detailing her pastoral adventure to family and friends in England and when a friend told her the anecdotes were “absolutely hilarious,” she realised it was time to progress her observations.

“I had that sort of James Herriot story in my mind, where he says, ‘That’s another story for the book,’ and his wife says, ‘Fifty-year-old vets don’t sit down and start writing books’. And that night he went out and bought a typewriter and started writing,” says Holly.

“Because of the journalistic training, I think I write really short stuff. It’s in diary form because that’s how I write best I think. It’s very short, snappy, you can dip into it, and I just wanted to write something to make people smile, really. There are sad bits as well, but mostly happy.”

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Holly Crawford on the farm with her sheep at Islandmagee

Holly Crawford on the farm with her sheep at Islandmagee

Holly Crawford on the farm with her sheep at Islandmagee

She went with a hybrid publishing model — having previously self-published a book of poetry — and thought it would only be viewed by her loved ones.

“We sold 300, the whole print run, in about less than six weeks,” she explains. “I must say that the local independent booksellers and local shops have been so supportive.

“I’m selling in The Secret Bookshelf in Carrickfergus, Books Paper Scissors in Belfast, and lots of the local shops around Islandmagee and further afield have taken copies as well. I’ve actually got some recently placed in Scotland and Hertfordshire.”

Having been described as ‘the Northern Ireland shepherdess’ akin to Amanda Owen, the Yorkshire shepherdess, comments on Holly’s book include ‘James Herriot meets Last of the Summer Wine,’ something she says is “lovely”.

“I’ve got about 8,000 words written of a second book,” she says, while also working on a Masters in creative writing.

“The other plan, once I finish that, is I’d love to move into romantic fiction. I said to a lady, ‘I think I want to do romance on a farm,’ and she said, ‘Farm fan fiction’, so there you go, a new genre.”

No longer tied to an office schedule, Holly has built up her freelance writing business, while milking, and doubling up as a ‘lamb foster mummy’. “Someone said the sheep are the stars of the show and they really are,” she laughs.

“They’re really, really smart. We’ve got One Ear and her lambs and Dec, who was born at Christmas, hence his name, December… We’re going to keep him as a pet.”

Stuck In The Middle With Ewe: Or How I Found my Flock and Lost my Heart in Northern Ireland (The Conrad Press, £9.99) is available from selected bookshops. It can also be ordered from high street bookshops and online. An eBook is available from Amazon. Follow Holly on Instagram and Twitter


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