We’re back into the swing of things here at my house: my siblings’ “summer holiday” is over and they’re back to school, which means I’m back to my old writing schedule. I finished my fanfic novelette a couple of weeks ago, just in time to turn my full attention to a new and very intriguing idea that popped into my head at the beginning of July.
I’m not comfortable giving a whole lot of details right now (I’ve learned the hard way that it’s best to keep some cards close to my chest), but I think this little “story aesthetic” image is evidence enough that I’m moving away from science fiction and trying my hand once again at historical fiction. It’ll certainly keep me occupied until my mom and friends finish reading and critiquing Lionhearted.
I don’t think I would’ve come up with this idea, though, if we hadn’t started a third (or maybe fourth?) re-watch of All Creatures Great and Small over the summer. It’s one of my all-time favorite shows, and I think I enjoy it more every time I watch it.
All Creatures Great and Small ran from 1978-1980 to 1988-1990, and was based on the memoirs of Scotland-born veterinarian James Herriot. (“James Herriot” was actually a pseudonym–the real man’s name was Alf White–but for this post’s purposes I’m sticking with the pseudonym.) I’ve actually only seen the earlier (1978-1980) run, but that’s three seasons with 13 to 14 episodes each, so I’m hardly deprived!
The show begins just like the books*: young and newly-graduated James Herriot arrives in the village of Darrowby to interview for a job with local veterinarian, Siegfried Farnon. Siegfried offers him the job pretty quickly once James proves his skills as a vet, and with that James (and the audience) are thrust into the often-hilarious (but sometimes-grim) realities of a British farming community. And we’re not talking just any British farming community, but the Yorkshire farming community. These people are hardy, common-sense folk who “don’t like parting with their brass” and turn a wary eye on strangers–but once you prove you’re not an idiot and willing to work hard, they’ll welcome you with open arms.
James himself is an absolute dear. He’s even-tempered, diligent, kindly, and persevering–but he’s not perfect, either. He has a difficult time saying “no” when he should, he’s much too hard on himself, and he worries about what people think of him. But honestly, that just makes him even more endearing and relatable. Especially since he’s such a good guy deep down.
And really, you can say the same for everyone at Skeldale House: they’re just good people. Siegfried, for example: he’s loud and eccentric, often demanding and the king of gaslighting (which can be very annoying, especially if you’ve ever been the victim of gaslighting)–but deep down he’s totally kindhearted and tries to do the right thing by humans and animals alike. Siegfried’s younger brother Tristan (AKA “the debauched choirboy”) is the personification of Chaotic Good, haha: he’d far rather spend his days at the local pub than work alongside his brother and James, but you can’t help but roll your eyes and then cheer him on as he learns more about the veterinary practice through actual experience than from books. Helen Alderson, the beautiful farm girl who eventually becomes James’ wife, is a gentling presence among these three wildly conflicting personalities–while the grim-faced but soft-hearted housekeeper Mrs. Hall keeps them all in line.
And those are just the occupants of Skeldale House. Throughout the course of the series you meet all kinds of colorful characters from the Yorkshire Dales, from the half-deaf Mr. Mulligan whose wolfhound won’t stop “womitin’ bad,” to the persevering widow Mrs. Dalby who fights to keep her husband’s cattle alive, to the wealthy Mrs. Pumphrey and her spoiled Pekingese Tricky-Woo.
As I embark on this new writing project I’m definitely getting a lot of inspiration from All Creatures Great and Small. The vividly-written villagers, the challenges of farm life, the gorgeous English countryside, and the looming threat of World War II are all major influences! But I don’t mind admitting, too, that it’s been unusually comforting this time around. Maybe the older I get, the more I appreciate these good, industrious characters–and maybe I’m also encouraged by the thought that none of them live grand or adventurous lives, and yet they’re perfectly content with that. They simply do what must be done, with a stiff upper lip and hope for the future. It’s a good way to live a small life, I think.
All Creatures Great and Small is definitely on the older side, so expect some abrupt scene transitions, minimal background music, and that distinctive “look” of 80’s TV. Also expect some mild British swearing (also in the books) and very thick Yorkshire accents (thank goodness for closed captioning!). That said, though: if you love animals, England, delightful and eccentric characters, and World War II-era stories, give this one a try!