Sheep and Writing Stories

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borrowed chickens.

Please welcome my guest KB Inglee. KB writes historical short stories which have appeared in several print anthologies.  Her story “Weavers Trade” placed second in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable. Many of her story ideas come from her job as historical interpreter at two living history museums near her Delaware home. And sheep are often her inspiration.

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When I was 7 my sister was given riding lessons as a Christmas present. How can that be fair when I was the one who devoured every horse book in the library and turned our back yard apple tree into a whole stable of horses? The first story I wrote was about a horse named Star.

Imagine my surprise when I realized my first novel had not one single animal in it. It was set in a time when horses were common forms of transportation. I didn’t have so much as a cat in the kitchen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you are going to write historicals, you need to do the things your characters do. I visited a living history museum near my home and discovered a flock of heritage sheep. I learned to give tours, tell the story of the family that lived there. My first published work (Farmer’s Daughter, Miller’s Son) is a kid’s look at the time period. I hand stitched a set of appropriate clothing. All the while I was longing to get my hands on the sheep. I wanted to do any animal type work my characters might have done: drive oxen, plow with horses, and raise chickens. I don’t remember when I was first invited to work with the sheep, probably I got to feed them when the regular shepherds were out of town. In ten years I worked myself up to head shepherd.

I was of an age where I was happy to move from 1200 pound animals with heavy feet with iron shoes to something smaller which didn’t break bones when it stood on my toes. I have been present at the birth of lambs, had had to put down old and sick animals that have been my friends for years. I can tell you how the industrial revolution changed agriculture and how the market value of sheep has changed over the years. I can process wool from the back of the sheep to the back of the person. I even butchered a sheep.

author vs sheepIf I have a muse at all, it is these animals. Like my protagonist they appear gentle but they will happily knock you down and walk over you if you are in the way. Like my protagonist they are patient and can stand around for hours waiting. If you have food, then they will push and shove to get to it, just as my protagonist will to find the answer to a problem.

If I am stuck for an idea or the way out of a plot problem, all I have to do is stand among the sheep. I can dig my fingers deep into the wool, listen to them breathe, watch them interact with each other and with me and the visitors. It may be a form of meditation.

There are still no animals in my narratives, but I have a whole flock involved in the writing.

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Here are some of KB’s stories, available on Amazon.

Joseph's captivity.

“Joseph’s Captivity”, Untreed Reads, 2012
A grumpy Joseph finds himself exiled, not to Egypt, but to an island
off the coast of Maine in the early colonial period.

Fish Nets.

“Netted”, Fish Nets, Wildside Press, 2013
A pile of string helps uncover a murderer

Magic Bullet.

“The Magic Bullet“, Death Knell V, Infinity Press, 2013
An article in French and an old gun provide the clues to solve a series of armed robberies.

Categories: animals, anthologies, history, living history, Mystery, outdoors, sheep, Short story, suspense, Uncategorized, writing | Tags: , , , , , | 15 Comments

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15 thoughts on “Sheep and Writing Stories

  1. What a lovely way to get the muse musing. Thanks for sharing KB!

  2. What an unusual take on a writer’s muse. I like it.

  3. KB, you *almost* make me want to keep sheep. In your picture, they don’t look extremely small. Are you sure they couldn’t break a toe with their hooves? I’m jealous of your recuperative sheep time. It must be working. Love your stories!

  4. Interesting post. Love the comment about not breaking bones when stepped on, I’ve been working with livestock my whole life, mostly horses, and one of the worse injuries I ever sustained was thanks to one of my mom’s ewes. I wish more writers would borrow a page from your book and spend time learning about livestock. I would have an easier time reading their books if they did!

  5. I enjoyed reading this, KB! So far as I can remember you never mentioned that your muses have fleece. I would have sworn that you stand within the flock only as sherpherd and historical interpreter. Shows ta go that we know only parts of each other’s lives.

    I was enamered of horses too. When I was a preteen my maternal grandfather, grandmother and I spent a few days at my grandfather’s handbuilt hunting cabin. A friend of theirs rode over to visit with them. The man asked me if I would like to hold the reins of his horse will they were in the cabin. Naturally I said yes! Within minutes the horse stepped on my foot. Nothing was broken but the hoof drove my foot 8-10 inches into the muddy ground. There it stayed until the visitor left the cabin.

  6. I had sheep for a while, mostly for the benefit of Dot, my Border Collie. Must say my Shetland crosses were never as tame as the ones in your photo, though Dot had no problem handling them.

  7. Very unusual method, KB. I saw we should use whatever works for us!

  8. What a lovely post, KB. Who knew sheep could be muses? I envy you your historical knowledge (and will be calling on you for some help with mine!).

  9. KB seems to be having trouble posting today. So I’ll try for her.

    From KB:
    The sheep in the photo are Leicester Longwool, popular late 1700s and early 1800s. Our flock is a satellite of the Williamsburg flock. We also have Delaine Merinos.

    Thanks, everybody. Wish you could all come get your hands into the wool.

    I never did have a broken foot from being stepped on by a horse, or any livestock

  10. I would love for you to post your story about “Star” some day!

  11. When I became newly single after many years of marriage, I bought a small farm with the intention of raising sheep. Then when one of my third grade students told me her mother was up all night because some ewes in her flock were lambing, I ditched that idea. Not for me teaching all day and helping my ewes lamb at night. I’ll stick with my two small ponies and small flock of hens.

    By the way, KB, I’ve had two broken toes at separate time when I had horses. It hurts.

  12. Ana Morgan

    When I was transplanted to a farm, I quickly fell in love with dairy cows. We milked by hand and a fresh heifer cow kicked and cracked my ankle. Ouch. Her attitude never improved. Never trust a black Jersey.
    I’m curious–why no animals in your narratives?

  13. Lovely post! I have wonderful memories of my favorite Aunt’s farm that I visited as a child. I hadn’t seen it for 30 years when I invited myself and my three young children to visit. Watching them experience the farm magic through their eyes coupled with the flood of memories was wonderful. We’ve returned several times and my kids talk about it often.

  14. How wonderful to have a muse you can actually touch. Whether or not they appear in your narratives, they obviously do inspire you. Nice post – a reminder of the importance of detail in making a story come alive.

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